Warning, this was a long race, apologies up front. If you make it to the end thanks for taking the time to read it.
IM Lanzarote has a reputation for being tough…. One of the few remaining Ironman events with a mass swim start on the beach, with a super hilly bike course and the potential for heat and wind added into the mix. Not completely sure why I signed up, heat and hills aren’t my forte!!! The organisers billed the race as “the hardest Ironman in the world”…
Originally I was booked in to Ironman Austria but logistics and timing of school holidays meant we decided to transfer to Lanzarote to coincide with half term and a family holiday. Win-win!!
Training started in early January and went well. I managed to avoid injury and illness and completed all the training sessions pretty much as planned, although I could have done more S&C work (as always…).
Having sought advice from a number of sources on the event, my fabulous wife suggested I travel out early (thank you Emma) to acclimatise and get organised. I flew out on the Monday with Emma and the kids coming out on the Thursday before the race on the Saturday.
We stayed at Club La Santa, which is an excellent venue for an active family holiday. It is also the host venue for some of the race logistics (registration, briefing, pre and post race parties and presentations etc), and a great place to soak up the race atmosphere. The only downside being is it is on the other side of the island to the swim/transition/finish areas in Puerto del Carmen. But this wasn’t an issue and logistics were laid on and ran without a hitch.
The other piece of prep I did which I think paid off was some heat acclimatisation work in the sauna the week before leaving. This was HARD, have you ever tried to sit in the sauna for 30 minutes every day for a week??!! I hadn’t and it was difficult!! Whilst I noticed the heat during certain parts of the race it never bothered me so I think it was effort well invested, plus the wind kept things cool.
I also took the opportunity to recee the swim course with Swim Lanzarote at the recommendation of coach Simon Ward in the week leading up to the race, which was also time well invested. I highly recommend this if you come for the race in the future!
The alarm went off at 3:45am on Saturday morning and I went off to get breakfast and the bus to the race at 4:30am, arriving in transition at 5:15am. Transition was packed tight and was alive with nervous energy as everyone got their kit ready, went through their routines and did their business. The atmosphere was punctuated with the odd loud pop as inner tubes exploded when over-inflated, but all calm on my front.
Warming up in the sea with the Swim Lanzarote crew in the dark was a unique experience and added to the building sense of excitement as everyone got ready. The sun started to come up and I made my way to the swim start pen at about 6:45am ready for the gun at 7am…
I had a plan for the day:
SWIM – training had gone really well and I thought I might be able to swim in 60 mins if I went for it but decided I’d be better off saving some energy for the hills on the bike and aiming for sub 70 mins.
BIKE – I’d planned the course on Best Bike Split and had a power profile to follow, basically 200w average and 240w on the hills. Nutrition plan was to be Precision Hydration (PH) salt tabs in my drinks and a mix of peanut butter bagels and energy bars with the odd banana thrown in from the aid stations
RUN – start slow and stay slow, 6:00-6:15 min/km. More PH tablets, coke and water with a couple of Belvita breakfast bars in my special needs bag.
SWIM – Like all good plans, it went out of the window straight away..! The mass start made for a busy swim (a huge understatement!!!). I’d never been part of a mass start with 1,800 people all diving in at the same time and it made the swim frantic from start to finish. Probably not helped by deciding to start in the AWA pen behind the pro’s and ahead of the age-groupers. My logic being that as I had the AWA option, it had to be better to be in front of as much of the melee as possible rather than having to fight through it!! I don’t know if this was good logic or not… Either way, I experienced a full contact swim for the full duration!! On the last straight someone kicked the stop button on my watch and there was even kicking and pulling at the final turn buoy 100m from the swim exit!! 3,800m done in 1:09 but with much more salt water consumed than planned and a lot more energy spent that I’d intended… Nonetheless, on track time-wise and looking back on it I enjoyed it in a perverse sort of way… plus, how many swims do you do where you can see star fish on the sandy seabed!!
BIKE – as you come out of T1 you climb for the first 15-20km up what is called the “Donkey Trail”. The scene was set for the day! Climbing isn’t my strength, largely due to my weight and I expected to be passed by lots of other riders. I stuck to my power plan and started to eat and drink in line with my plan looking forward to the descents. So far so good.
Between the first and second aid stations I started to need the loo, and not the sort you can do on the bike… Unusual for me as I’d had a normal routine in the days before the race and that morning, but no problem I thought, I’ll just stop at the next aid station and use one of the portaloos. The first major descent then came and took my mind off it as I started to pass some of the riders who’d overtaken me up the first hill. The upside of big climbs is some epic descents which I loved, >60kmph for a good 10 mins, awesome!
Still no loos in sight as I made it to the top of the second climb with discomfort growing. By now I was beginning to be mindful of what I was putting in as I wasn’t sure if there was going to be an option to stop for the loo. I was annoyed with myself because I’d put some wipes in my run belt but not taken any on the bike. Lesson for next time learnt… But this left me a problem if I had to go so it became a challenge of holding on for the rest of the ride…
By now I was onto the biggest climb on the course and was beginning to struggle, it went on for ever, right to the highest point on the island at Los Halechos. But you’re rewarded with some alpine style hairpin switch backs on the descent on the other side before climbing again up to Mirador del Rio and a truly spectacular view of the bright blue ocean and neighbouring islands at the bottom of the cliff some 500m or more below. Then comes another epic descent and major speed, just awesome!!
The road then flattened out and turned inland on some lovely new smooth tarmac. The wind dropped and the heat cranked up. This is where in hindsight the lack of consumption of calories started to bite. I began to loose all energy and the gradual climb up to Teguise was torture, 20km odd of 3-4% relentless climbing. Doesn’t sound that bad but by now I was something like 130km and 5+ hours in and struggling…
At the top of the Teguise climb you rejoined the road that runs down the centre of the island and you ride the other way down it for a short distance before turning off onto the new out and back section to Famara. This part was the low point for me… You pedal downhill for about 10-15km with the wind in your face. The view is great and you can see for miles and miles down the open hillside and out to sea but the headwind made it tough, and the return looked difficult. I saw one rider who had passed me earlier pull over, get off his bike and lie out flat on the road half way back up the climb, which didn’t instill confidence in me… At the bottom I had to stop. My stomach was in knots and I needed to straighten out. I took the chance to have a pee and noticed how dehydrated I was. I cracked open a Belvita and forced down some fluids and got back on the bike. I could see Club La Santa and was so tempted to bin the ride and head home… Definitely the low point…. The ride back up was hard. The Belvita provided some energy but made my stomach churn even more to the point there were a few close moments on the remainder of the ride. I started to wish the rest of the bike away, running had to be more comfortable than this… a strange thought for me as I generally love cycling and find running difficult.
Eventually I reached the final aid station at the top of the “Donkey Trail”, the first climb we rode up at the start. Here I took a bottle of Coke. It was cold and tasted soooo good. I drank nearly all of it in one go and hoped it wouldn’t bite me back before T2… The course was downhill all the way from there and I really enjoyed that part of the ride, tight roads, fast (I saw 80kmph on my Garmin) and twisty, I made up lots of ground here on other competitors who’d past me earlier. When I reached the bottom I noticed how much better I felt, the Coke (and maybe a bit of adrenalin!) had kicked in. On reflection I should have taken to the Coke earlier in the ride…
Into town and towards T2. As I approached the dismount line Emma and the kids were there on the barriers cheering, so good to see them smiling and shouting encouragement. Into T2, bike dropped with the catchers and straight to the toilet…. 7:22 for the bike.
RUN – I felt so much better for the toilet break. There was an aid station just as you came out onto the run and I took on some Red Bull and water and settled into an easy pace.
The run is a three lap out and back course with the first lap being 21km and the second two being 10.5km each. Sounds dull but was actually quite good. The first part was along through the town with lots of people in bars and restaurants showing their support. Then the course went out past the airport along the side of the runway with planes taking off and landing, which made for interesting viewing, although the acrid tyre smoke from planes landing (you are that close) did nothing for my stomach… At about 12km I started to need the toilet again, this was becoming a bit of a pain… but at least there were portaloos at regular intervals on the run course.
The aid stations and volunteers were excellent, really positive encouragement and supportive. I was taking on water and coke or Red Bull at each station, along with sponges and ice to stuff down my suit to keep me cool.
At about 15km I got chatting to a guy from Southampton and we ran together for about 5km which helped pass some time but he dropped away as we neared the halfway point. Back into town and I got to see Emma and the kids again. Seeing them made me feel really emotional for some reason as I collected my 1st lap band and headed back out onto lap 2.
My pace was slowing now and my stomach was playing up again. Another stop for the loo. I was finding that if I walked fast I was ok but if I ran it created problems so I decided to walk the out section of the lap and see if things settled down.
All thoughts about a finish time were gone and I was just focused on making the end in one piece. The sun was setting now and clouds gathering at the turn point and even a few spots of rain fell before the clouds moved on. The heat of the day was going and the breeze picking up as darkness fell. Another loo stop just after the turn and I tried to run as much as I could back into town, although the going was slow.
Seeing Emma and the kids again was so good with cheers and encouragement, thank you all for being there, it made such a difference.
I collected my second lap arm band at the finish line turn point and headed out again with the same tactic as the last lap, walk out fast, shuffle back as quickly as I could. Only trouble was the walking was now beginning to hurt as much as the running and I could feel the blisters on my feet growing. I’d largely stopped drinking and eating now to try and avoid any further toilet stops on the basis that the heat had gone and I couldn’t do myself much damage if I didn’t drink anymore in the time that was left.
The athletes on the course were thinning out now, it was dark and I was on my last lap, I knew I was going to finish, which I had doubted at times on the bike. But there were plenty of people who didn’t have any arm bands (meaning they were on their first lap). I didn’t envy what they had ahead them but respect to them, they were going to be out there a lot longer than me… It seemed quiet now and I could hear the cheers from the bars for the football, which seemed important in the bars but I didn’t know (or care) who was playing.
The final turn point came and went and I shuffled as fast as I could back to town. The 2km to go sign created a lift in spirits but I wasn’t sure if Emma and the kids were still going to be there to see me finish. Beforehand we had to say which bus we would get back to Club La Santa from Puerto del Carmen. The options were 7:30 (yeah, right!!), 9:30 or 11pm. The 11pm bus seemed a bit late for the kids and we’d agreed that if they were too tired they’d head back if I was still on the course. I was ok with this but I so wanted them to be there at the end and was trying as hard as I could to be there before 9:30. I failed badly on that one arriving at the finish around 9:45pm. But they didn’t let me down. Emma had asked the kids what they wanted to do and they’d all said they wanted to see me finish. So proud of them, thank you. It was great to see them at the barrier on the finish chute.
I stopped and gave them all a hug and a kiss. At this point there l was a guy about 50m ahead wearing a Darth Vader helmet. Thomas was insistent that I get moving and beat Darth Vadar!! So I ran down the chute and overtook him with about 10m to go to grab the finisher ribbon and lift it above my head. It felt so good!!! Ironman Lanzarote billed the race as “the toughest Ironman in the world” and I’d completed it. It certainly felt like it too!
THE AFTERMATH – the bus ride back was a bit of a blur and sleep was sweaty and fitful. So proud to wear my finisher teeshirt the following day and relax by the pool with some beers. Surprisingly I didn’t feel too broken and really oddly not that hungry, maybe that’s still to come… also touched by the number of messages of congratulation received, thanks everyone.
– Lanzarote was my third Ironman and was just as rewarding as the first but in different ways. For me, overcoming the distance is such an incredible thing, I love it. Not just the race day, but the training and the build up too, it’s all part of it.
– Having Emma and the kids there made a massive difference, I’m lucky that they are prepared to support me with my hobby, thank you xx
– The support I received from Trisurrey is quite humbling too, thank you, it also made a big difference.
– Thanks also to Simon Ward and Bethany Smith for the training plans and advice, I wouldn’t be here without it.
– The course was brutal… if you want a challenge, come and race Ironman Lanzarote, you won’t be left wanting…!
– I have work to do on my nutrition
– Heat acclimatisation prep pays off if you’re racing in the heat
– Carry wipes at all times…
If you are still reading this, thank you for taking the time, I hope you found hearing my story interesting. And thank you to everyone who sent messages of support and congratulation, it means a lot. But mostly, thanks to Emma, Thomas, Zoe and Charlotte for your support for putting up with my hobby. Love you all xxx