If we must fail, let us do so reaching beyond our grasp for a dream that is worth all our striving. Then, even in our failing, even through our tears, we have won. Mike Cudahy – Utra-distance trail records holder
DOUBLE IRON LANZAROTE TRIATHLON
5-6 February 2011
Swim 7600m, Bike 224miles, Run 52miles
Below is a report on the week leading up to and including the Lanzarote Double Iron event. Organised by Enduroman, it is now the first International Ultra Triathlon Association (IUTA) race of the 2011 season. As my previous blog mentioned, I was not even close to being trained for this race, but I was looking forward to a challenge, and was at my lowest (healthy) weight of 69.5kg, looking trim and toned. Here’s what happened:
I was accompanied on the trip with my friend and crew Dan Martin. My original first choice for crew was going to be Scott Garrett again, but I was unsure whether or not to do the double iron distance (based on the training) and didn’t make the decision until the last minute. As Dan was out there training anyway it seemed the logical choice. This was his first time crewing an ultra event so I tried to make it as simple as possible, despite excel sheets detailing gear, pacing and nutritional requirements. Of course the main issues this time around were lights and the limitation of breaks. Having looked back at my previous two double ironman races I’d wasted too much time trying to fix inadequate or failing lights, and stopping to eat/drink/chat to help break up the pain and monotony of the race. This time I’d borrowed a decent Lumuicycle front light with a couple of battery choices, and several small lcd lights off friends. The lumin-light was positioned between the two tri-bars and just behind the bar end shifters. It was a little more difficult to get a full grip on the tri-bars but we figured that as long as I was racing well, there would only be up to 4hrs in which I would need to have it on, of which a large portion of that time would be on the wings. I was very pleased with the performance of the light, despite the clamping device and positioning. I will either invest in one of these, or one of the Use range for next year.
I’d decided to make the bike leg a little more comfortable for this double iron. Part of this was because of the course. With the rolling hills in Lanzarote and strong winds, I couldn’t risk any wobbles particularly at night, on descents. I had a Planet-X 101 rear and a Zipp 404 front on the bike (vittoria and conti podium tubs). But if the wind hit 20mph+, especially from the side, then we had a pair of low-rim Dura-Ace clinchers as back-up. I also decided not to use an aero helmet and lifted the tri-bars a little higher than normal. The benefit of this was less strain on the back and shoulders, enabling me to drop the head to stretch-out the neck and upper back on occasion. In hindsight I realised I should have used the aero helmet as it probably would have saved 15mins+ over the 224miles. The rest of my racing gear consisted of a two-piece triathlon suit, a choice of trainers (racers with heel cups, and cushioned) and various alternatives and back-ups. I used flame and clear tinted SpiUK glasses to get through the day and night on the bike.
We only brought a small amount of nutrition with us to the race as we were told by the organisers that gels and bars would be available. Unfortunately they were not. We had:
Box1 – Sports-spec
GO electrolytes (enough for the swim/bike) – med tub
2 x protein bars
Chia seeds – 1.5ltr made
Coke 2 x 1ltr
Elagen sport and beta-alanine pills
5 x 750ml sports bottles
Box2 – Other
Salted peanuts – large pkt
Snickers – 6 x small
Chocolate – 2 x large
Bread and cheese
Flapjack pastries x2
Chocolate croissants – 10 x mini pkts
The plan was to have a 750ml bottle of med-strength electrolytes on the swim. I’d then load the bike with a bottle of electrolytes and a bottle of water with salt tablets and 500cals. The following laps would be a mixture of sport-spec products, until we reached the point at which main lights must be turned on and fitted and I changed into warmer and high-vis clothing. I requested something savoury, salty and high-cal at this point – of course I had to keep the burger tradition up! So during the bike I ate 2 x half burger, cheese sandwich, handful of nuts, snickers bars etc….to accompany the gels and energy bars. General rule for each lap was at least 1 x 750ml bottle, a gel bottle holder containing 300cals and an energy or chocolate bar. In total this would provide 500-600cals for 90mins+ cycling. I’d try to eat on the easier sections (dropped heart rate) that didn’t require full control of the bike. After the success of the Brecon Beacons run last year, I knew my body would be happy with anything between 250-300cals/hr, so a little extra while mobile on the bike, and top-ups during the extended stops (lights and transitions) should see me through.
We flew out well in advance of the race, on Thu 27 Jan. Plenty of time to chill-out and do a few bike rides on the course. On Sat 29 Jan we went for the first recce. As we were cycling down towards Playa Blanca I noticed three dogs come running out into the main road. One went in front of the bike which forced me to brake, while another came up alongside me and took a bite into my lower calf/ankle. Blood started pouring out. No-one in the bar nearby seemed to speak English until a guy came up and introduced himself as Raf. Turns out he was one of the Enduroman helpers and was good enough to drive me to the local Clinic to get sorted. Luckily I didn’t rerquire an injection. The doctor was going to prescribe antibiotics, until I mentioned the race. As long as I applied a cream regularly and kept it bandaged I would be fine. No swimming for a few days.
We did another 2hr30 cycle on Mon 31 Jan and I started swimming again on Wed 2 Feb. Another problem that had surfaced was numb legs. It’s possible I stress/tense my legs subconsciously when I sleep. I have done this in marathons before but never a triathlon. It seemed to kick-off the day after a four mile walk and a disrupted nights sleep (party). On Thu 3 Feb I wore compression leggings all day, took anti-inflammatories, cold baths and lots of liquid to try and flush it out. On Fri 4 Feb the legs were better and we headed down to Playa Blanca and the race Hotel, where I was staying the night before the race. I started developing a fever during the day and felt quite run down. The taper had been going for some time now so it wasn’t due to that. I don’t think it had anything to do with the bite either as that had healed up nicely days ago. Psychosomatic as a result of pre-race nerves? Possibly, although I’m usually quite relaxed before races and generally only feel a little tense at worst, never nervous. Maybe a combination of everything. On the outside I looked in good shape and would steal a few looks in the mirror around a nice warm bath to get the confidence back. I was reading a good book at the time – Wild Trails to Far Horizons, by Mike Cudahy. It’s a tough read if you’re not into ultra trail running, but gives a great insight into a guy that tried eight times to break 3 days for running the Pennine Way (270miles) non-stop! Talk about persistence. He also broke the West Highland Way and Coast to Coast records amongst other things. Anyway, I took some heart from his spirit, and will never again be downbeat about pulling out of a tough ultra distance race if I know I raced strong. The quote at the top of the page is from him.
The usual pre-race actions were carried out including a blood test, pre race briefing and race dinner. Had the chance to meet a few of my competitors, around 24 in all. A mixed bag but a decent turn-out of Brits. I’d been told about a guy who’d won the Deca and Double-Deca Triathlons in the two previous years. Mad.
I awoke just before Dan came knocking on the door at 6am (race morning) and we started making preparations for the 8am race start. I’d managed to break a sweat during the night and flush the fever out. The legs were also the best they’d been all week, so I was on a much more positive note. Lets get started!
THE RACE !
This was the first Lanzarote Double Iron event and you could tell the government were keen to make a good job of it. However, there were a number of minor errors during the course of the race that I’m sure were as a result of the rushed final preparations and shouts from various corners ie IUTA, local Government. It must have been a huge task to organise the event under these conditions and I’m grateful to Enduroman that it went ahead and we all got around in one piece.
A Double Iron event is twice the standard Ironman-distance. The Lanzarote Double Iron involved:
Swim – 4.8mile (7600m) sea, 8 x 950m loops
Bike – 224miles (360km), 8 x 28mile laps
Run – 52.4miles (84km), 32 x 1.65mile laps
At 7:45am we started to make our way down to the beach. The first 20m into the sea was littered with large smooth rocks, so it was a little tricky to find your footing with the waves coming in. Once we were all in the hooter sounded at 8am and we were off! I was just off the front from the start and immediately found my space behind the leaders. Despite the lack of training I’d felt good in the wetsuit the week before and knew I wouldn’t be far off the front. I adopted an extended catch/glide when the sea wasn’t too rough, and tried to ride the waves coming from behind, which seemed to gain me half a metre on those around me.
In the pool I can do 2hrs for 7600m in a wetsuit, so in the sea I was looking for 16mins on each of the 8 laps to bring me around 2:08. This would be a decent target considering any waves and swell. I found myself in a group of four for the first 3 laps and even took the lead occasionally. We were cruising along at the 16mins/lap pace without any problems. I’d occasionally stop to sight where I was going, and do a little breast stroke to ease the back. I sometimes did this when I knew someone was right on my feet so they’d go crashing into them. But to be fair I did my share of drafting! On lap 5/8 I lost contact with the two lead swimmers, who turned out to be Paul Thompson (PT) and Robert Mayoral Serrano (RMS). One minute they were there, and the next they were gone. I can’t quite remember what happened but I think PT went hard and only RMS stayed with him. The fourth guy in the party had already dropped back anyway. At the start of lap 7/8 I stopped at the time-checking boat to take a drink from the bottle of electrolytes I’d left with them (we were allowed 2 bottles). I asked where the leaders were and they tried to point out a boat with a flag on it off in the distance. If it was the boat I could see then they were a good 200m ahead! The boats generally kept their distance, and we had to shout our numbers on each lap. Unfortunately one boat was giving off a lot of diesel fumes, which almost made me gag a few times. I’m a bilateral swimmer (breathe every third stroke), so I was able to switch sides to breathe when the fumes became too strong or the waves too hard.
I took a good 30secs to drink from my bottle, before I continued. On the final 2 laps I wasn’t tiring, as much as I was finding the waves were having more of an impact on me. I felt like I was having to put more effort into each stroke against the current. Being all alone meant I couldn’t take breaks in the wake of another swimmer. On the return of the last lap I could hear someone announcing something to the spectators on the speakers, but couldn’t see anyone running up the beach. The final 20-30m out of the sea were tricky. I knew it was going to be hard to negotiate the stones coming out, even with assistance. But with added balance issues, I took my time.
Once back on the sand I put a pair of running shoes on, and sprinted up the hill, through the shower and on to the changing tent (transition 1). I felt awsome. The swim had loosened me up and got the blood flowing. Whatever happened during the lead-in to the race, I felt like a new man. PT and RMS were both in the changing tent, sorting themselves out for the bike. I had my race head on and tried to speed along. I asked the nearest marshal to pour a bottle of water down my shorts to remove excess sea water. It turned out to to be the race organisers wife, but I’m glad she found it amusing! I then dried myself down and applied vaseline, followed by sun cream. Next came the cycle shorts, race belt, sunglasses and cycle shoes. PT was the first to leave the tent, so I ran to my bike and followed him out. I wanted to keep him within my sights for the first lap of the bike at least. RMS came out right behind me. The swim splits were all taken on a timing matt before transition (near the shower). It looks like I made up 3mins in transition. The three of us all jumped on our bikes around the 2hr30 mark.
The crews were not allowed to help during the transitions, at least they were not allowed to enter the tents. This was fair enough as there was limited space. We already had two 750ml bottles on the bike (1 x electrolytes, 1 x water and salt tablets), 1 x bottle (300cal) gel and an energy bar.
The 28mile lap/route leaves Playa Blanca heads NE towards Yaiza. There is a loop that starts along the coast to El Golfo and goes up over a mountain before returning south and back towards Playa Blanca. There is an extra dog-leg (funnily enough it starts where the dog bit me!) on the return that takes you through an Industrial Park. The two check-points (where you call out your race number) are at the beginning of the northern loop on a roundabout, and the Industrial park. It ensures no-one cuts corners (although I’ve heard from another competitor that this was not the case).
The wind had been really kind to us for the race. Lanzarote is renowned for its strong winds. I kept my first choice rimmed wheels but wished in hindsight I’d had my SpiUK aero helmet with me and dropped the bars. I’m sure I may have been able to take a big chunk out of my overall time. At least with the vented helmet I stretched the neck and back and had no aches when I finally climbed off the bike.
Leaving Playa Blanca on the first lap I still had PT in my sights (about 400m away) and found the outgoing road (towards Yaiza) very quick indeed. Speeds were comfortably up in the 30s and the average speed started well. I was feeling comfortable on the bike and deliberately dropped my RPM to around 80-85. This seems to work better for me over long distances, at speed and on the flat. It also drops my heart rate and enables me digest foods and liquid a little better.
I was a little worried about the bike, not just from a (lack of) training perspective but also the mental side. I’d spent some time thinking about the best mind-set to use during the race. In previous ultra races I’d keep my mind active; making race calculations, reminding myself of how much I’d done, how little there was to go, hum a song or mantra. This time I tried something different. I tried to zone-out and not think, but relax into the race a little more and enjoy the scenery (the loop around El Golfo is stunning – crystal blue waves, black and red lava rock) and the race.
My pacing plan was to keep to 1hr30/lap and make sure I completed lap 4 by 4:30pm. The organisers said we’d have to put lights on the bike and wear high-vis from 5:00pm so this gave a 30min safety margin in case they brought it forward. The intention was to do 5/8 laps with limited breaks, and then stop after lap 5 (6pm) for 5-10mins to grab something savoury, don the high-vis clothing, while Dan set up the main front light that would get me through the final 3 laps at night.
I kicked off lap 1/8 in 1hr25 (20.0mph). Not bad except that my calf’s were feeling tight and numb in the Compressport calf guards, and the soggy race number had come loose. At the first break/turnaround I asked Dan to re-attach the race number to the belt while I grabbed the nutrition. He was struggling a bit so I decided to take the time to remove the Compressport. The release was immediate, and I could feel life coming back into the legs. It seems compression clothing can be too restrictive and these were cutting off the blood supply. I won’t be using compressport again. I’d now lost sight of PT.
I was still holding second place for a few more laps until a couple of other competitors came by, 21-Marcel Knaus (MK) from Germany and 11-Rudi Van Aelst (RVA) from Belgium. I tried to stay within sight of RVA but lost contact. Lap 4/8 was the low point of my bike. I’d completed it in 1hr32 (18.3mph) and felt like I was on the turn. I thought this was likely to happen anyway based on my fitness. At the end of the lap I asked Dan what he had available that was savoury. I can’t remember what was taken but it was either half a burger or half a cheese sandwich. That, along with a couple of painkillers and 750ml of chia seeds in water seemed to give me a lift and lap 5/8 was a little quicker at 1hr31. I was really enjoying myself at this point and looking forward to the extended (lights) break at the end of the lap.
As I finished lap 5 I noticed RVA was still with his crew, sorting out clothing and lights. Dan was busy fixing the lumicycle light to the tri-bars while I helped myself to more savoury pick n mix (possibly another half burger!). I decided to wear the white Helly Hansen long-s top and Bjoern Dhaelie gillet (as worn at Brecon Ultra), with a high-vis vest on top. I changed the sunglasses lenses to clear, put a small led just below the helmet, switched on the other bike leds, and was off. Dan had done a good job of taping the light together and it never shifted from its position for the rest of the race, despite a few rough patches near Yaiza. Id had a total of 10mins break, which was much needed.
I was keen to get as much of lap 6 (particularly the mountain loop) done before it was too dark to see the road in front. I put the hammer down. It was still quite warm so I had to unzip the gillet. At the start of the northern loop a camera van pulled alongside me, and stayed there for about 20mins, occasionally dropping back to let cars pass. This provided great company as the field was so spread out you couldn’t see anyone in front or behind. If anything this probably helped my race because I certainly had ‘the race face’ on and put a little more effort into the uphills, out of the saddle. In fact I was spending more time out of the saddle in the hills now. Not because of fatigue, but because I felt I had plenty of energy left and could try to make a little time up on the leaders. As I came to the turnaround of lap 6 to 7 I noticed RVA was still taking his break. I took the opportunity of a fast break, to get back into third place again.
For most of lap 7 I kept myself entertained by looking back for the lights of RVA. There they were, about a 5mins back – 2 strong lights, one above the other. For the first 9 miles from Playa Blanca to Yaiza and the start of the 9mile loop I worked hard, but those lights remained the same distance. I’m sure he was working hard too. He wanted to catch me, but I wasn’t going to let him! I put the foot down even harder around the mountain, but every time I looked back (including on top of a hill to take a toilet stop) I could still see those lights. It was a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid except I wasn’t being tracked by an Indian and a group of angry lawmen. The lap split was 1:39.
We made an error at the final break/turnaround for lap 8. We’d already run out of gels (as the organisers weren’t supplying any), so we didn’t have a gel flask put by. I just grabbed 750ml of happy drink (a mixture of everything – 1/3 coke, 1/3 electrolytes, 1/3 water and salt tablet) and a small snickers (200cals). That’s just 300cals for 1hr40 of cycling. It wasn’t a problem for the final bike lap itself, but it may have set the foundations for the problems to come. I grabbed another beaker of coke on the last lap to try and add a few more cals, but I was told later that the aid stations on the bike course were handing out diet coke ie no cals. So that was a waste of time. Lap 8 was still a decent 1hr39, providing an overall bike split of 12hr36 and race time of 15hr05.
At the end of lap 8 I passed my bike to Dan and the marshals, grabbed a snack and headed straight into the tent for hopefully another quick transition. I felt awesome. There were no pains, aches or even stiffness. The night before I felt numb, fatigued and had a fever. It seems the cure is a double iron aquabike! I had to hold myself back at first to make sure I did the necessaries. After ~6mins, I grabbed the 500ml running bottle off Dan and I was off!
At the start of the run I had no idea how far I was behind Marcel Knaus (MK) and Paul Thompson (PT). I was hearing some strange times inc a 1hr lead. Having now looked at the splits after the race I can see that it was – 38mins and 27mins respectively. I was very confident about my running. I had been on great form over the autumn and winter. Mentally I was prepared to allow the leader(s) a 45-60min head start as I was confident I could pace to a 7:30-7:45 double marathon.
The first 4 (of 32) x 1.65mile laps were on 13:30-14mins with a short ~20sec break at the turnaround to grab a snack and take a running bottle (alternating laps). I felt relaxed at first and was able to fuel on the move. I was getting a little fed up carrying the donut-shaped running bottle so decided to stop on future turnarounds to take a drink. My body felt loose and strong and my mind was set on the task ahead. I was enjoying myself, but something didn’t quite feel right as the laps went by. I was alert and the muscles were firing-off nicely but the energy system wasn’t happy. RVA came by on my lap 3 (his lap 2) at a blistering pace. I worked out later that it must have been close to 7:00/M and 6hr15 double marathon time. Suicidal.
Laps 5-8 were all around 15-15:30mins and it was around this point I passed PT (1 lap behind him). I ran into the turnaround with him, and then pressed on for another lap, moving to within 12-13mins. On lap 8 I had to take a special toilet stop (a ‘Gingerbread man’), and the tract movement from this made me feel worse. My stomach was shutting up shop for good and I was now getting desperate for the energy. Lap 8 took 17:38 and lap 9 20:45 which involved mostly walking as I ate a banana, followed by a fizzy drink. Lap 10 was just a frustrating walk from start to finish, and I started to get light headed. At the end of the lap I sat down in a chair knowing I was about to DNF.
It’s very easy to say to say I should have taken a break and then picked the race up again, but I knew from experience that the longer I sat around waiting, the more nauseus and sick I would get. When I race I do it to compete, not complete (I’ve already received the double iron t-shirt). I aim is to get the best possible time. And I’d rather end a race on a high, than struggle to the finish on a low. I’m also not sure I’d feel comfortable with walking. Afterall, would you call yourself an Ironman athlete if you’d walked the marathon? It’s all or nothing as far as I’m concerned.I had a great race both in the swim, and a bike performance that betters my previous double iron events despite less training, aerodynamics and perceived effort. I know I can run well, and I’m certain I’ll be better prepared next time for a fast double marathon split.
Paul Thompson went on to the win in 24hr14, and you couldn’t wish it to happen to a nicer bloke. He executed the perfect race overall. Guy Willard (who I exchanged a few chats with on the run) came in third overall and also had an awsome race. In fact, the whole British contingent did really well. I have to thank Dan for crewing me during the race, the organisers, marshalls and other competititors, and to my sponsors Bike-Science and Elagen who always have a positive impact on my racing. A great experience overall.
After returning my timing chip and carrying gear back to the car, we drove back to Puerto del Carmen. I had to stop twice to jump out of the car to be sick, but I was expecting this (from previous DIM experience) and warned Dan in advance. Interesting what came out. I was obviously tired the next couple of days before the flight home, but there were still no physical pains or stiffness and I was happy to get a few runs in before the weekend.
My withdrawal from the race means I can now get straight back into training for the London Marathon, including steeping stone races in between. If I’d have forced myself around the remaining 37miles of the double iron event then this would not have been the case. I will be looking into the nutritional side of ultra racing a lot more this year and hope to return to the Lanzarote Double Iron in 2012. I’ve already come up with the following that I’ll need to double check and then try out in training: Antacids, PPIs – Bisodol, Olumaprazol, Tums (apparently the Spanish ultra racers like taking Tums before events to line the stomach). Rehydration – Dioralyte, Immodium
I had a good chat with experienced racer and author Wayne Kurtz recently. His first book, Beyond the Iron is out now. You can order HERE. He has povided me with some good ideas that I will use in training and racing in the future.
Overall I really enjoyed the Lanzarote Double Iron race. For me this is what it’s all about – finding new challenges and pushing your body to new levels. It’s becoming more of a fascination for me than the Ironman. I’m sure ultra triathlons will gain popularity over the following years. If this year goes to plan I may consider racing the IUTA circuit in 2012 and seeing how many points I can accumulate. For now, I will press on with the races and put a line through this ultra event.