20 days to Ironman UK
IRONMAN GERMANY RACE REPORT
Sunday 4 July 2010
3.8km Lake Swim / 185km Bike / 42km Run
Well what an experience that was!!
I’ve had a good week to think back to Ironman Germany, which was without doubt the most disappointing long-distance triathlon result to date! I’ve completed eight Ironman-distance races over the years, all of which have progressed along with my fitness, to the sub9 time at Challenge Roth last year. I had high hopes for Ironman Germany. So, I made a couple of bad decisions leading up to the race but, as I’ll explain, external factors played a bigger part in the final result.
Following the visit to my physio and treatment on my tight hamstrings, gluts and lower back I was feeling quite sore, but obviously a little looser, and looking forward to competing. The training for the week leading up to the race was exactly the same as Challenge Roth. Once again I travelled down with a friend (Dan) who is around 10:30 standard. We alternated driving and took a few stops on the way down. My gluts were very sore and it was a little uncomfortable being in a seated position for 8hrs.
The conditions in Frankfurt at the time were tough, as a heat wave was passing over with very little wind. The temp peaked at 40c on Friday, before a small storm came over on Sat night and it dropped back down to 26-30c for race day. To add to this, the (National) Hotel we picked just a mile from the race finish had no air con. It was like sleeping in an oven on the first night, and I finally got up after just 3hrs sleep to the sounds of drills on a site outside. I managed to get a room transfer which also had a fan but, even with the fan on all night I was struggling to breathe and we both ended up averaging 4hrs/night for the rest of the stay. This was the problem. My body didn’t get a chance to rest, my gluts were still sore and my legs were generally fatigued and stiff. It felt like I had walked a marathon! Usually I’ll get my feet up the two days before an Ironman race, but for this one I was spending too much time sorting out the bike, registering, racking the bike, and far too little time actually resting and sleeping.
We did manage to get some World Cup time in though. They were loving it in Germany, and the city went mental after the 4-0 thrashing of Aregntina on race day. Had to laugh at all the girls dangling out of the back of cars, blowing horns and pointing at the GB number plates!
If it wasn’t for the bike I would have probably been a bit more relaxed, but I noticed the front tubular tyre (vittoria corsa evo cx) had a very slow leak (20psi/5hrs) which was a little too much to warrant racing on. Of course I had spares, but I was unfamiliar with all of them. The freshest of them all was the spare (borrowed from a friend) on the back of the bike – a Tufo Elite Jet. I wanted this tyre as it’s the most compact race tyre you can wrap, and hides well behind the seat of the Ceepo bike, so as not to affect aerodynamics as much. It’s also very light (160g) and has a thin width. But, I didn’t account for the road conditions, and the cobblestones section on the course. This required a tougher wheel. But more on that later.
With the new wheel glued on, I then had to pick a new replacement spare to go behind the saddle. I chose the Tufo Elite Pulse. The tyre wasn’t as flexible as the Elite, and I spent a few hours fighting with it trying to make it sit behind the seat post without it swaying either side (I now have some ideas on how to sort this out, but when you’re rushed before bike racking you don’t have time to think). Dan was also having a few problems with tyres. We were supposed to do an easy 1hr bike ride on the Friday, but it ended up 2hrs when he punctured.
As well as the bike issues, we did a fair bit of walking to get to registration, buy gear, eat out, rack bikes (an annoying mile walk from the race car park) which, with the 4hrs/night sleep, completely tired us out. On Sat night I decided to have the fan on full blast and wear full length 2XU compression leggings, to try and encourage recovery in the legs. I woke up feeling a little better but the legs were still stiff and crying out for more rest.
We’d been getting through a lot of bottles of water because of the heat, and throwing back plenty of salt tablets. I’m not sure if I managed to stay on top of this. I was never thirsty but there was evidence of some dehydration. The Italian restaurants were few and far between and the two we did find were obviously very popular and required a long wait.
We headed down to the lake venue and took in the pre-race atmosphere. As always it was really exciting. We couldn’t take in our own foot pumps so I grabbed one at the first opportunity to pump up the tyres. With the hot weather I decided to go with just under 110psi in both tyres. But having finished and passed the pump I did a pinch test and the wheels were not as solid as I was expecting, despite the pump reading 110psi. On top of that, and in hindsight, I didn’t realise the new Elite Jet tyre was supposed to be pumped to at least 115psi and closer to its max of 200psi. It’s one of the worst tubulars for rolling resistance, especially on a low psi, and probably cost me a good 5watts+.
As it turned out the swim was indeed non-wetsuit, with the lake temp breaching the 24.5c limit. As mentioned in the previous blog, I was definitely not looking forward to this! I ended up wearing the Spiuk trisuit, which felt very comfortable on the swim and bike, and served me well. Dan was stopped by a marshal on the walk to the lake for wearing a silicone top. Turned out the official had made a mistake and it was only rubberised garments that were banned. At the time Dan decided to head back to his bike and ditch the tri-suit for some swim shorts, but I feel sorry for all those DQd before they even started!
SWIM – 1500m (Non-Wetsuit) 2-Lap Lake
I’d predicted a 1:05-1:10 time for a non-wetsuit swim which was both cautious and pessimistic, but was also deliberate as I didn’t want to come out of the swim disappointed. I was surprised how much space was available up near the front and thought…what the hell lets be brave and go on the front line. 300 pros and age-groupers had already started 15mins before us, so despite having 2-3000 swimmers on my back I felt surprisingly confident.
At the gun I went hard as planned. I was aware of the extra effort I had to put in my core and legs but it wasn’t an issue. I was holding my own and noticed a large space not too far ahead….could I really be up near the front!? As it transpired, there was a concave section of the mass start right in front of me, with swimmers going quicker 30m either way. You can see what I mean in the pic – I was around the P in ‘Pix’.
Aha! I thought, that makes sense. I settled into a good steady glide and started working on my drafting. I was feeling a lot more comfortable fighting for feet and lateral movement. Breathing was also a lot less labored than with the wetsuit. But I knew I was losing time to the decent swimmers.
The swim consists of 2 x loops. The first is 2200m and the second 1400m, separated by a short run along the sand. I was really looking forward to this, and probably was a little too enthusiastic when climbing out after the first loop. I did a little dolphining and then overtook about 10 people along the sand, dolphining back in again. It was hard to move the arms around at this point as the blood started rediverting , but this was the same for everyone else around me, and the general pace soon started pickinh up again.
I didn’t have any luck with drafting on the second loop. I lost contact with those in front of me, but went faster than those behind. I couldn’t believe that in an Ironman swim I was swimming all alone, but there it was. Still felt quite strong, and had a sneaky look at my watch every couple of mins as the shoreline approached from the distance. Pleased to see I could be on for the hour, which was better than expected.
At Roth I did 58mins with a wetsuit (should have been 55-56mins without the panic attack). I did 61mins here in a non-wetsuit swimm, which suggests I’m still on for a 55min on a good day. Considering I do very little swimming, all with a pull buoy, this was the best part of the day!
The run from lake, up the bank and towards the bike was swift. The bike had a patch of sand in front of it so wasted a fair bit of time cleaning the legs and sliding on the calf guards and socks. Lost a dozen places here.
BIKE – 185km
This is when I knew it wasn’t going to be my day! As soon as I mounted the bike and worked the pace up on the road I felt numb. The legs were stiff and sore with occasional shooting pains. It felt like they were cramping. It wasn’t particularly painful, but it was uncomfortable and I felt like I had no strength. I tried to be positive and started on 80-90% effort, turning an easier gear on a higher rpm in the hope that I could work it out of the legs. I was cycling around a bunch of other disk wheelers for the first 12km in to Frankfurt and the start of the first of two 85-90km laps.
The course is not particularly hilly, but a little technical in parts, particularly a few roundabouts and a 200m cobblestone section. At Roth on the Argon bike I held a 23.2mph average over 180km. This time around I was expecting a similar time on another relatively quick bike course. I only managed to get up to 22mph av by the time I passed Frankfurt, heading into a slight headwind north. Then built it up to 22.2mph av on the way back. This was a whole 1mph+ lower than I would have liked and was a bit disconcerting. I was still holding my own around Disks-R-Us but lost time at the aid stations. The Speedfil has its benefits, but it takes a bit of getting used to. I struggled to start with, trying to squeeze liquid in, as the loose bottle tops were closing as they pressed through the refill flaps. I also stupidly tried to squeeze a nuun tablet in. From that point I just nibbled nuun washed down with water (I was frothing at the mouth). The straw occasionally got in the way on fast descents and I wasn’t quite aware of how much liquid I’d taken.
The loop includes a 200m stretch of deep cobblestones. We hadn’t had time to recce this part of the course in advance and I thought my bike was going to fall apart the first time I passed over it. I also expected one of the wheels to puncture. What surprised me was the attitude of the other cyclists – they flew past, without any regard for their bikes. They probably had a better tyre choice than my light front, but still! Thanked god when I came out the other end and kept an eye on the bike for the next couple of miles. I lost around 10 places.
The end/start of each loop was through the centre of Frankfurt, and involved a fair bit of negotiating around cones and over tram lines, road works etc. I remember going through a bad patch at the start of the second lap and had to really work on my positioning to get as aero as possible. My legs were feeling dead at this point, but I didn’t lose too much ground. Photos from the cobblestones and hills:
Approaching the cobblestones section again I decided to go a little harder (still lost a couple of places!). It was a few minutes after this, and while descending a hill and taking a sharp right turn, that I thought the front tyre had rolled-off. There was a significant understeer and I heard the scraping of the carbon rim on the tarmac. I looked down and the wheel seemed to be on ok, so I continued… The next right turn was even worse. Again the cornering was sluggish, the wheel carbon scraped, and I couldnt turn in time. I ended up against the barricades. Reaching down I pinched the tyre and found it was very soft. For some reason I wasn’t as gutted as I thought I should be. Perhaps I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. I took it easy down the road and found an open spot where I could replace the tyre.
This was the first time I’d changed a flat in a race. I’d led a duathlon once and punctured, which was very frustrating, but didn’t carry puncture-repair with me because of the short distance. As I climbed off the bike in the German countryside I was keen to see how quickly I could do the swap. One of the locals came over to help out. A really friendly guy who spoke basic English, and was obviously keen to do his part. I made him hold the bits and pieces and screw in the co2 adaptor to the co2 cannister while I removed the front tyre. It all seemed to be done in a decent time and without a hitch – I replaced valve extendors, lopped the new tyre on and inflated. Took a quick toilet-stop while I had the opportunity, shook the man’s hand with a “Danke….I go!” and off I went. I was shocked to see I’d taken over 7mins to change the tyre. With the affects of the flat before the change, building up pace again, and not having the same group around me, it must have come out at around 10-11mins lost. Very expensive. The Garmin now showed an average pace of 21mph…ouch! I worked on anger for the final 30+ miles to transition and finished on 21.2mph.
The final bike time of 5:21 was 35mins slower than Roth. Without the puncture and the extra 5km it was probably around 15mins slower. I’m hoping the difference was as a result of my leg fatigue and perhaps a little from the choice of front tyre. I won’t know until Ironman UK in a few weeks.
I hadn’t given up on a Hawaii slot coming in to Transition. I knew the bike was pants, but I thought I could pull it around in my strongest discipline, the marathon run-off. I had <3:10 in my head as a target to get the slot (as it turned out <3:15 would have been sufficient, with potentially more on the roll-down). It didn’t start well. After a marshal took my bike and I shouted out my number to the marshals at the run bag pen, they couldn’t find it. It felt like an eternity running around with them to locate the bag. The annoying thing is it was in the right place, they just couldn’t work out their own numbering system.
RUN – 42km/Marathon
With that <3:10 marathon in mind I knew I’d have to hit 4:20/km from the off to allow any tail offs towards the end. But straight away I knew this wasn’t going to happen. The legs were stiff and numb and just didn’t want to play. I struggled on 4:30-5:00/km pace for the first half hr. I then dug deep for the next half hr before really struggling. As you can see in the graph below, it was downhill from that point on!
The course consisted of 4 x 10.5km laps. Despite crossing bridges twice on each lap and a few 180degree turns, the course was quick with plenty of aid stations. The first two laps I just about kept the pace up, but started taking extended walking breaks at the aid stations. I was unsure just how much of my struggle was from pre-race fatigue, and how much from glycogen depletion. I felt miserable and couldn’t wait for the event to be over.
During the third lap I started to really lose the will to live, and I knew my ever decreasing overall time was going to fall outside any Hawaii qualification chances. This was the cue for me to mentally back-off and just concentrate on limiting the damage. With 15km to the finish I started walking outside aid stations. It was getting hotter and the number of runners (off the bike) was increasing. With 12km to go and approaching the final lap I was walking twice as much as I was running.
On the start of my final lap it was just a case of keeping the legs moving. I’d generally walk, but include the odd 10-30sec jog every now and again. With 3-4miles left I started working out in my head how much longer I’d be in the race if I walked. It was the only way I could get myself through the last lap. I’d take the odd toilet break, stop at aid stations to drench myself in water and pack ice down my tri-suit, and eat fruit and any other snacks. I was even tempted to stock up on gels to get my moneys worth and use them at IMUK!
Peeling off on to the finishing mat, I came up alongside competitor who looked worse than me. He was obviously in a similar ‘I couldn’t care less anymore’ state of mind and we both argued that the other should finish first!! In the end we both walked over the line as close to each other as possible….turns out they measured to the nearest 10th second, and I pipped him!
Swim Lap1 : 28:11 (Cumulative overall position 235th)
Swim Total : 1:01:43 (201)
T1: 4:37 (221)
Bike after Loop1: 2:43:48 (195)
Bike Total: 5:21:36 (297)
T2: 2:11 (297)
Run: 4:04:23 (400)
Here’s a comparison of the marathon from Challenge Roth last year and Ironman Germany last week. The dotted lines mark the km splits, the solid lines mark the cumulative time.
In my last two Ironmans I’ve finished just behind the leading Pro women time-wise (exc Chrissie at Roth!). Looking at this race, the Top3 women came in on 9:04-9:10. So I’d have been looking around 9:05-9:10 on the perfect day. The 19th male in my age group (last automatic Hawaii slot) finished in 9:41. With a little roll-down I’d have been looking at probably around <9:45 for the qualification. A good opportunity missed!
Dan and I were both obviously very disappointed with the race and had plenty of questions to ask ourselves afterwards. Dan had to pull out after the bike having also been fatigued before the race but also carrying through a hip injury that wasn’t happy off the bike. Next time I do another Ironman-distance race I’ll make sure everything is sorted bike-wise before I travel and I get there in plenty of time to relax in a decent hotel.
Ironman Germany was an awful experience from start to finish. The best way to get over it id to forget about it….hopefully the next long-distance race will bring it all back round again.
I’ve had a week to think about the race and look towards IMUK, which is now less than 3 weeks away. I’m keen to do a wheel/tyre overall and look at alternatives to the Speedfil bottle. The CKT bars on the Ceepo may accommodate a DIY bottle holder (I’ve already been having a play – pics to follow). I can then have a bottle over the stem, and a bottle on the down tube. The other option is to revert back to the Argon bike, on which I preformed really well in Roth last year. It needs a basic service, but it will be great to use the conventional frame bottles once again and hide the puncture kit right under the seat. I like a free cockpit when I race.
Its taken 6-days for the body to recover, so I have two weeks of training before a recovery week to IMUK. I’ll be staying at both a hotel (near Manchester airport), and a friends flat, in Preston. Paul is a decent 100m (11.5) and 200m sprinter and is coming down to the annual Department of Environment Sports Day (Track and Field) this Friday 16 July. It’s an occasion I’ve enjoyed attending since 1997. This year it takes place on and around a 200m track near Twickenham…just 1mile from where I live. I’m entered into the 800m and 1500m events, which should be fun.