Race Report (and a bit of background, ok, a lot of background) – Ironman Italy 2018
So, here is my race/season report from Ironman Italy 2018. I haven’t written a race report before but as I gain so much knowledge and motivation from other peoples’ reports, I felt this was an absolute must. It should hopefully convey how much the club means to me and provide some useful insight to others undertaking a similar challenge in the future. It’s quite in depth and may require a couple of sittings to get through, or you may just get bored….
To provide some context, the idea of a fast(?!) flat IM course first occurred to me when competing in Triathlon X in June 2017. I have to thank Rich Bartlett for bringing that one to my attention in the first place, but having just ridden the Fred Whitton and run to the top of England’s highest point and back to Ambleside, in somewhat unseasonably warm conditions, my words as I crossed the line were “fast and flat next year!”. Tri X had developed in me an idea that unless you try to find your limits, you really don’t know where they lie.
I raced every Tri distance in 2017, from super sprint to full Iron, throw in a week cycling in Majorca, one crossing the Pyrenees and by the finish line of my last race, IM 70.3 Weymouth, I was ready for a break. My season planning really needed some refinement too.
This is when I picked up “mindset” by Dr Carol Dweck, thank you for sparking my interest on this subject Jonathan Wilden. On putting this down and with a renewed and focused growth mindset engaged, and taking a view that swimming, my nemesis, really needed attention, I picked up Swim Speed Secrets by Julie Taormina and a new love of swimming was borne.
That was pretty much all I did from November – April, swim, swim, swim, with the odd run thrown in. I can highly recommend the effortless swimming channel on YouTube for some excellent insight into front crawl technique. And getting to the pool 3 – 4 times a week to practise, practise, practise.
2nd April 2018 and an email pops in to my inbox. Congratulations! You are now registered….. Thanks for the birthday pressie Emma Bartolo. Having a partner, ahem Fiancée, who is into Tri as much if not more so than me, and who is always super, super supportive of my bonkers endeavours is something I am very lucky to have.
So, project Fast and Flat commences. I would be switching my focus from gravity to drag. Having self coached my 2 previous Ironmans, I engaged the services of LHW Triathlon and would be coached for the first time by TriSurrey legend Luke Worthington.
Although I will refrain from giving away any trade secrets, I can say that adhering to a periodized, polarised training programme has been a revelation. Well timed and proper application of the key elements of training and recovery has seen improvements I never thought possible.
Under the guidance of Luke, 2018 saw a much more refined racing calendar. Racing 3 events and really focusing on them, and each having a purpose, is a much more enjoyable and productive approach than signing up to everything that sounds like fun. Largely because they all sound like fun to me!
The results improved from race 1. A sub 33 minute swim at Cotswolds 113 was a pb by 5 mins (thanks Matt Talboys and Anna Fox for the tow) and a 4:48 overall a pb by around 25 minutes.
Cue a referral to Ray Gibbs at Swim Canary Wharf. Ray is a phenomenal swim coach, utilising under water filming in an endless pool to critique your stroke and prescribe drills to correct and improve stroke technique. This has seen huge improvements in my ability to maintain speed (relative) in the water. One thing I have learned is that more effort does not equal more speed!
I digress, this was supposed to be a race report, so here’s the bit about the race!
Em and I travelled out to Cervia, Italy, on the Wednesday before the race. This gave plenty of time to get to know the area, get the bike built, have a test ride and have a couple of warm up swims. Not to mention exploring the beautiful resort of Cervia.
For the first of my warm up swims there was a bit of chop and the water was pretty stirred up with no visibility. This was fine, although my race start sims did draw some odd looks from a few on the beach. I was pretty confident with this aspect of racing, having practiced repeatedly charging into the sea at full tilt on pretty much every family holiday from the age of 5.
Thursday morning arrived and we drove the bike course. This was very valuable as it gave me the opportunity to see the road surface (80% first class, 15% good, 5% WTF was that?!), but also to drive up the one hill on the out and back course. This seemed bigger in real life than I’d imagined but was small beer compared to last year.
I’d been checking the weather from about 8 days out, not so much a mistake, but certainly a lesson in the accuracy of long range forecasts. From 1 week out, rain and 23°C, not bad. 1 day out and highs of 33°C, at least our incredible British summer meant I was well acclimatised!
On Friday morning we’d arranged to meet up with Alessandro, another TriSurrey club mate racing, for a swim on the course and a final bike test. The sea was super calm and the swim course had been laid out, or so we thought, it really didn’t match up to what was in the athlete’s programme. Anyway, I went for a very short, turn the arms over effort, whereas Al and Em were slightly more adventurous heading out to the first buoy. It was at this point that Al asked if we’d seen any jellyfish. No was my reply, and having completed my short swim headed for shore. Em and Al joined me shortly afterwards, Em was aghast at how may ‘HUGE!’ Jellyfish she’d seen, Al was no less unambiguous.
Happy in my ignorance, Al and I set off on the bikes for a 40 min out and back course recce/bike check. All good.
I racked my bike and set up my transition bags. I usually walk the transition from swim in to my bike about 5 times, just to cement it in my mind and memorise any visual clues. I may however have had the easiest transition spot to memorise in the whole 500m (yes 500m!) of transition, directly beneath an overhead gantry, perfect!
Just the race briefing to attend and then on standby until the morning. In the race briefing they made mention of the jellyfish and confirmed that they had been seeking guidance from IM HQ regarding the situation. The current water temp was just over 25°C, wetsuit legal requires the water temp to be below 24.5°C, however we were advised to be prepared for both eventualities and the announcement would be made at 06:00am.
Back to our apartment and a significant amount of pasta was consumed and a morning checklist made. Bottles in fridge ready to be made up in the morning.
This is when the second contingent of the cheering/support crew arrived. Mum and Dad, more use to tracking these events from afar, arrived and would be in tow keeping Em company the following day.
Off to bed at 9:30, alarm set for 04:15. Managed a broken night’s sleep until eventually giving up at 04:00. Double porridge on the stove, run through checklist. Bottles from fridge. Away at 05:15.
Into transition to load up the bike with bottles and bars, and pop gels and sun cream into my run bag. As I put the bottles on my bike, the announcement is made – The water temperature is 24.8°C, pause for effect, but due to the menacing jellyfish, wetsuits are optional. I was happy either way but being pretty skinny, the extra warmth was a welcome surprise.
Oh crap! I can’t find my goggles! I have a spare pair in my transition bag as a just in case, thanks for the tip Paul Mwanza! However, with the world’s best support crew, I dispatch Dad and Em back to the apartment to collect my race goggles. No mean feat when there is now a slightly awkward traffic system in place as the roads are closed for the run route.
Fairly calm, due to the back-up goggles, I sit and chat with mum who’s a little dumfounded by all the crazy people awake at this time, that and the ungodly time we had to leave this morning.
Al, very happy with the wetsuit decision, joined us for a while and we got a couple of pre-race photos. Then Em and dad arrived, race goggles in hand. Now serenely relaxed, Al and I went for a warm up swim. This was really useful as it allowed me to get my wetsuit set over my shoulders properly.
Then the announcement came over the pa, can all athletes make their way to the start pens please. Do I go for the sub hour or the 1-1:10 pen? I go for the latter, not wanting to get swum over, though I am further back than I would like. I catch mum, dad and Em waiting at the side of the pens for one last good luck and double thumbs up.
The male pros went off, then the female pros, then it happened. Full volume at 07:45, Na Na, Na Na Na Na Na, THUNDER!, Na Na Na Na Na, THUNDER! ACCA DACCA, Thunderstruck. Boom! If there’s one song that will get me out the door, no matter what the weather or how knackered I am it is this one. Oh, that’s rather a lot of adrenalin I’ve been keeping a lid on. WTF, so I jumped the barrier into the sub hour pen. Most of the athletes from this pen have already gone so I won’t be in anyone’s way. I make my way down to the start gates and ready myself, a 100 messages of good will spinning around in my head. Then the starters countdown, 5,4,3,2,1 GO! I was prepared to charge down in to the sea with dolphin dives and all, but everyone else was taking a nice gentle stroll in to the lovely warm water. I take the opportunity to calm down and ease into my stroke. We’re off!
10 mins in and I’m swimming well, nice and relaxed and keeping pace with those around me, or overtaking a few (that never happens!). Then I notice my timing chip has slipped down to my ankle and is feeling quite loose. My new wetsuit has ‘speed cuffs and ankles’ and although I had tucked the chip underneath, the more elastic ankle cuff had allowed it to slip. So I take 10 seconds to roll over and tuck it back up again. About 15 mins later I notice the same thing has happened again. I roll over and tuck it back up again. 2 mins later and its loose again. No worries, the Aussie exit is coming up and I can sort it then.
I exit the water and bend down to sort the chip. Both hamstrings were not happy about this and cramp up, wow!, I wasn’t expecting that! This time, however, I have the presence of mind to tighten the chip just above my foot so there is nowhere for it to slip to. Standing up, much to the protest of my hamstrings, I check my watch, (thanks for the heads up John Collins), 33 minutes with 2.3km done. Happy with that, I make my way back in to the water for the second loop.
I’d seen a few Jellyfish on the first loop, but halfway into the second and, sorry Mr/Ms Jellyfish I think you may have a headache (if you indeed have a head or gender for that matter), as I full on slap one in the catch phase. I think there may have been a few Jellyfish with headaches by the end of the morning, hopefully with no lasting damage. I got away without being stung, but a few people were not so lucky.
I exit the water in 01:02, that’s a huge pb, having swum 01:21 in the X last year. After a reasonably quick change in T1, on to my favourite part, the bike. Fortunately the gantry was still in place and my bike was directly underneath it.
I stuff an SIS bar down on the way out of town. Time to settle in to position and get some hydration on board, its already getting pretty warm. The bike course was almost entirely flat with only bridges and the motorway slip roads providing any change in gradient until the one hill at the far end of the out and back. With Ironman being a closed road event, you can generally overtake with ease and without impediment from passing cars, which is a huge bonus in my mind and one of the reasons I enjoy these events so much. This does, however, lead to the formation of draft packs as riders clump up, some blatantly sitting well inside the draft zone. I make the decision to use a few surges to get past several of these as the on-course referees shoot past on vespers gesticulating enthusiastically and blowing whistles.
My strategy to carry sufficient water on the bike for the first lap pays dividends as I pass the first aid station. Many around me slow to grab water as I carry on by without leaving aero position.
I’ve drank 500ml of energy drink and the same amount of water by the time I reach the hill. Staying in zone, and going fairly easy up the hill, there’s an awesome atmosphere at the top where some local tri and cycling clubs have amassed. Die, Die, Die they shout! Slightly intimidated, I look forward to the descent. Unfortunately I got held up by a slightly less confident descender and had to sit on the brakes until the road opened up and I could get past. This was a blessing in disguise as with no-one around me, I could follow my own race plan with no need to surge.
Steadily tapping out the power until the return on the motorway. Here again the draft packs emerged. I pulled out to get past, crossing the centre line momentarily. At this point a referee came past, I thought I saw them take my number down. Then it struck, race paranoia. This may be peculiar to me alone, but my head plays some funny tricks when I’m racing. My mind runs over the previous days briefing – did they say ‘no crossing the centre line’ I think so, but does that apply on the motorway with no oncoming racers or traffic, damn! I can’t remember. Sod it! Carry on.
As I approach the turn around, there’s an almighty cheer from the side of the road. Em’s in full voice and giving mum and dad a demonstration on how to cheer TriSurrey Style. Lifted by this, I check my time and realise I’ve done the first lap in just under 2:30, boom! Just above target, hot, but not too hot. I resolve to keep it in check for the second lap. Things were nicely spread out now and I just concentrate on my nutrition and hydration plans. As I pass through the beautiful salt flats (with real life wild flamingos, no less! If TriSurrey did Ironman…) There’s another almighty cheer. Yes the TriSurrey massive get everywhere, thank you Andy Dalman, your support was very, very much appreciated.
Back on to the motorway and another referee passes. They pull up next to the off ramp as I whizz past. Race paranoia kicks in. Did they show me a card, no I’m sure they didn’t. I carry on, with the paranoia buzzing around. Finally, I decide to pull in to the penalty tent and ask if I have a penalty. The referee, although friendly, won’t tell me if I have a penalty. They simply repeat, if you were given an orange card, it’s a 1 minute penalty, if it was a blue card, it’s a 5 minute penalty, if you take a 1 minute penalty, but it should have been 5 minutes, you are disqualified. I think for a moment, I’ll take a 5 minute penalty and not risk a DQ.
Pretty calmly I re-join the race. No point making things worse by blowing up now.
Back past the flamingos and Andy lets off another almighty cheer. Into town and Em, mum and dad do the same, cow bells and cheers ringing out. In to T2, 05:11 for the bike, happy with that, despite the self-imposed 8 minute self-sabotage penalty, dooh!
A quick change into my run shoes, stuff a couple of gels into my pockets and out on to the run course with sun cream (stick) and visor in hand. My first thought is, ‘damn it’s hot!’.
500m in and I see the first aid station. I head straight over and grab a cup of ice which I swiftly deposit down the back of my tri suit. Momentarily refreshed, I settle into race pace.
At about 5km, the heat hit me like a sauna, a volcanic sauna. That was it, I knew it was gonna be a tough run. The organisers were very well prepared for this though, every aid station had ice, someone very willing to douse you with a hose, water, energy drink, gels, fruit, cola and some very friendly and encouraging locals (still shouting Die, Die, Die! at me). In fact the support around the course was fantastic with lots of local clubs taking part. On this note, Em had set up residence next to Cesena Tri club who also wear pink. There was quite a commotion when I ran past in a pink visor.
The run essentially came down to how much pain I could endure, this turned out to be enough to keep running, but not very fast. Taking on water at every aid station and a gel at every other, the only time my legs felt good was when I took my SIS electrolyte gel. Following this I perked up for 20 minutes or so. I think this may point towards insufficient electrolyte intake for the conditions and is something I’ll look to better understand in future.
I’m very aware that Ironman racing really starts in the second half of the marathon, and just like a 100m sprint, it comes down to whoever slows the least. Digging in and now engaging the full Ironman shuffle, I managed to keep it going for lap 3, just as I reach the turn around, Andy gives an almighty cheer, 50 meters down the road and Em, mum and dad do the same with bells on! I resolve not to stop running (shuffling) for the last 10km. Having read a couple of sports psychology books this year (I can highly recommend ‘How bad do you want it?’ by Matt Fitzgerald), I know that perceived effort is linked to time to sustain that effort. I’d like to say therefore that the last lap flew by, it did not. It was pretty tough and was engrained on my legs for at least a week, until an Epsom salts bath. But I did run the whole way.
Then the moment it all comes down to. Running down the M Dot carpet to the words I’ve been longing to hear; Adam Wade YOU ARE AN IRONMAN! And some more enthusiastic cheering from the support crew. A feeling of elation mixed with exhaustion fills me as I sit down on the carpet and high five a few of the other competitors coming across the line. The pa system blaring out some banging tunes, I feel like I’ve returned to my clubbing days.
The que for the massage tent was too long so I headed straight for some food. Sat chewing the same mouthful of pasta for 4 minutes, I give up and walk out to the finishing shoot to see the crew. My first question to Em is ‘Do you know what my time was?’ 10:25 comes the reply. Happy with that, over 2 hours off my PB.
We waited to cheer TriSurrey’s other legend over the line, Al coming down the carpet after a superb day out in the heat. Well done for toughing it out, that marathon was brutal.
Then the final challenge as I realise there is no way my TT bike will fit in a Fiat 500. Em immediately offers to ride it home, then rethinks and offers to walk it home for me. Best support crew ever!
If you’re looking to do a fast, flat and potentially very warm Ironman, I can highly recommend IM Italy. It was well organised, well supported and logistics were pretty simple too. Oh and Die, Die, Die is actually Dai, Dai, Dai which roughly translates to Come on, Come on, Come on!
The key lesson I took away from this is to know the rules, or as Nick Barrett put it KTFR! Thanks Nick, I do now!
How do you address Ironman Blues? Sign up to next years before completing this years.
I’m already looking forward to a TriSurrey Mob Match at IM Austria next year. With a lot of knowledge gleaned from this season to take forward to next. Not to mention supporting Em in her first full distance Ironman.
Thanks for all your messages of support and I hope you have found some of the above useful. Congratulations for making it to the end, you clearly have the endurance, now go do an Ironman!
Best Club Ever.