Monday, May 23, 2011

Ironman Lanzarote :Tales of an Endurance Junkie

Lanzarote ...Tales of an Endurance Junkie

I finished the race . That sums up the experience , the journey that started last year , even before Busselton Ironman..
Ironman Lanzarote Poster .Picture by Melina Chan

Heading to transition for bike check in .Pic by Mel Chan

Ready for the swim .Picture by Mel Chan

Swim Start Ironman Lanzarote Pic by Mel Chan
Running to Transition .Picture by Mel Chan
Coming into Transition 2 .Picture by Mel Chan

Ironman Lanzarote Medals .Picture by Mel Chan

After the race with Enrico.Picture by Mel Chan

With Finishers is all a blur .Picture by Mel Chan
The seed for racing Lanzarote was planted in 2007 when Andrew Budge who wrote my first programe for an Ironman race told me if I never got to Hawaii to race Kona then the next best thing was to race Lanzarote.(Read Brad Culp's story on training in lanzarote : Mars Rovers)

At the time it seems that lanzarote would be beyond my capacity having never done an Ironman and just finishing was a goal.At the awards night , Kenneth Gasque ,race director mentioned that one competitor told him at the finish line " If i sign up for this race again , you have my permission to shoot me" . Another said , I will rather give birth to twins .

This weekend I completed what is arguably the toughest of the ironman races . I finished in a time of 13:54 with a swim time of 1.15 , a bike time of 7.26 and a run time of 4.58. My worst ironman time but by far the most satisfactory race I have had. Is it really about the time ..Yes it is .It is the only measure of performance and thousands of atheletes religiously monitor and measure their performance by it. It is the currency of result.But what I learnt in my training and in this race goes beyond the time.

This weekend I tested myself and saw what the human spirit can achieve. I met fellow atheletes with numerous tales of sacrifice and unbelievable courage and strength. I saw that raw energy at the start line .It is etched on every face . It is seen on the course and recognised by the people of every village and town we rode by and the cheering crowds at the finish line on the run course. The joy and relief at finishing.They all tell a story ...but basically anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

I was not disappointed or devastated with my result.I gave it my all and I knew I tried my best .If anything I had to dig much deeper in the run to not give up .Every fibre of my body hurt . It was so easy to walk but I wanted to finish and I wanted to try and get the best result I could. As the well trotted out cliche goes , the pain is temporary, the memories last forever.

As the week leading up to the race  rolled by , and the information gathered in the months leading up to this race and having seen the bike course I knew I may not have the strength necessary to get a good bike time ie anything around 6 hours.

The week before the race is one of excitement but a nervous grinding wait. the day finally arrived and on the morning I got to the race site early , the advantage of staying 300 meters from the start line. I got my bike set up done quickly.Pumped the tires despite the darkness.

Enrico and I got suited up and headed to the swim start for a warm up .The water was comfortable.There were approximately 1500 athletes at the start line.It was a mass start . There was no fanfare at 7am the gun went off and  everyone went . we were both at the back and it took about 45 seconds or more to get to the water .

It was a good swim by my experience.There was the usual push and pull but nothing excessive.I got into a comfortable pace and tried to draft off the feet of swimmers with some success.The water was
clear and I could see hundred of swimmers around me.A very new experience. The swim was a two lap course.To my surprise I did the first lap in 35 minutes.A PB for me if I was doing a Half Ironman swim.
I did have a cramp and slowly walked round the turnaround before getting into the water .The 2nd lap was less congested and I hugged the buoys  to the turnaround buoy.

I was out of the water in 1.15. A PB by more than 5 minutes.It was through the showers and off with the wetsuit.I then ran to get my bike bag but unknown to me the volunteers had hung our warmup bags on the same hook so I had to run back and get the bike back losing about 2 minutes.I slipped and fell on the wet transition floor as well..I got changed as quickly as I could and ran out to the bike a very long transition on the main road up from the beach where the T1 was located.

I wheeld my bike to the start and spent about 8 minutes in transition.I was off on the bike course which skirted round the town before heading west and than basiclly going round the island .It was
a 1 lap course. Immediately as we got on to the main road leading out west we were met by a headwind and then the long slow climbs around Yaiza and El Golfo with the desolate lavafields and winds.It was a
slow painful ride.I just had to put my head down and keep at it. I kept my drink and food intake up. Whilst there were no hard gradients it was relentless and continous.As we got to La Santa in the north there was the first relief of a fast downhill ride. That was around the 50 km mark. I was travelling very slowly and it was worrying.As we turned away from La Santa in the North it was now the 2 major climbs that were ahead I passed through quaint villages with cobbled roads.There was a particularly bad stretch of road  after La Santa  as well and everything on the bike  rattled and the arms took the pounding of the uneven road. But the lasting memories of that section would be the villagers standing and clapping as we rode past literally their houses while other villagers sat at tables on the roadside drinking and eating and cheering us along.

In the first half of the ride as we rose up,the sky was overcast and it was quite cool .I felt cold . As we headed for the first climb , the weather was still overcast and the wind was unrelenting.

The first climb was hard and I started to cramp. It was at a place called Haria in the North I just had to take more salt and hoped I could just soldier on.I think in hindsight the lack of more hill work and having a higher salt intake than my usual salt intake were issues but how do I estimate the amount of salt on a specific course? It possibly could be the combination of the physical activity and the cold. I got to the top despite a stop to get the legs back . It was then down hill through a series of hair pin turns .The speed and wind made for some white knuckle moments especially when a gust shook the bike. I had also lost my power bars and my gatorade was not sufficient to last the ride but I managed to get power bars on the aid stations and started taking in coke and even the power electrolyte to just get enough electrolyte and calories. At the 110 km mark I  had the second climb and that was at a place called  Mirador with the spectacular views of the ocean below. I had a short break at the aid station here before the 10 km downhill run. At the top I chatted with a fellow competitor.At this point I told him I was asking myself why was I even doing this? He said he was thinking the same thing but at least it is the last big climb. (pictures of Ironman Lanzarote fromLava Magazine)

The run downhill was  short but exhilarating . It was a white knuckled hand on the brakes moment but a great thrill with the plains at the bottom .The one unique feature about lanzarote...there are no trees . The next 60 kms or so were basically undulating roads and again there was wind.I got back in 7.26 and again it was a longish transition because of the lay out.I got my shoes on and was out on the run course.

The run was a blur of just struggling to finish. the legs were spent despite the food intake and all the coke and electrolyte and gels .Nothing seemed to work .I just had to knuckle down and get through it..The crowd support was great.The first run was a 10.8 km run out past the airport with aircraft landing just over the run course.Loud and spectacular .I ran past that bit just as a plane landed over me.Again the winds were about.Gaye later told me that the winds are good as it keeps yoi cool.I thought it was like running into a wall.

I did the first 3km in 5.39 per km pace but that just fell into 6 and 7 and then 8 minute km. The next 2 laps were about 10.5 km and after 25km I started to walk a minute for every four minutes I ran .It hurt a lot more and after 10km of that i just ran the rest of the way back to the finish line.

Finishing an Ironman is the one emotion I cannot describe. You have overwhelming relief mixed with joy and sadness. It is cathartic .It is transforming. As Enrico said in his blog.the end of the world was predicted by some to occur on 21 may 2011..the world didn't end but for 1500 individuals it was a life changing day.

What did I learn ? Well Enrico sums it up in his blog Lanzarote Part 6 lead by tri Enrico Varella .Life is short  , enjoy and help make a difference. The event in itself is to meet and be inspired by like minded atheletes who in their own quiet way transform their lives and others .The parent who helps his Retts syndrome child, the many individuals with a disability but really just see it as another obstacle they can overcome, the many who year in year out test themselves against nature and the course. What do I have to complain about .The world did not end .It just seems a lot better for having been part of Ironman Lanzarote.

Finally , I would again just thank the many who support and follow my blog.My family , Suzanna despite her cruel text about "did I get my Kona spot" (and she will be going to Kona even if its to spread my ashes on Digme beach) , my children Caitlyn and Jonathan for being tolerant and supportive, my friends , Ross Pedlow , training mates  and club. A special thanks to Enrico , Mel , Gaye and Kate Bevilaqua , and the many wonderful people I met on this trip for making this journey what it has been..