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The one that got away, Ironman #23 - Frankfurt

This is not a tale of difficulty, intense challenge, overcoming adversity or suffering but a bit of an honest reflection of a 95% perfect race.  I tried to give 110% but as that’s theoretically impossible, sitting at 95% was good enough.  If interested in the story about the oldest athlete to go sub 9 hours at the European Ironman Champs in Frankfurt, then read on.
 
As per previous blog post, training had gone reasonably well for this race, but Frankfurt is a bit of a mixed bag with weather.  It’s either blisteringly hot and a non-wetsuit swim, or a tad chilly, wetsuit and rain. The weekend before the race was cool and cloudy but on Wednesday, the heat went through the roof and eyes on the forecast, crossing fingers to drop below 31 degrees.   Watching the water temp on the website rising 0.5 degrees per day from 21.9 up to 24.0 C on Saturday and although now experienced with a non-wetsuit swim, it was not the race I wanted.  
 
Sunday’s arrival at transition was greeted with the announcement of a 24.1 degree water temperature and a wetsuit legal swim.  Game on.  Training last week doing 4k OW swims predicted a 55 min swim, faster if drafting on feet so I made the decision to get as close to the front of the rolling start as possible.  Fully expecting to get swum over early and find it difficult to get on the right feet, it was a very pleasant experience watching the pros start in non-wetsuit and being thankful I was not going through it again.
 
Swim Start:
A steady run into the water, 2 dolphin dives and into the stroke. A guaranteed panic attack is swimming too fast at the start, or otherwise known as getting out of breath.  As much as I can replicate this in training, racing is different. Conscious of starting easy, the first 2-3 minutes went well. Quickly into the stroke and able to follow some feet, take the odd kick and then…..it started brewing.  You feel the panic attack coming.  You don’t stop having them, you just get better at dealing with them.  Short breath, feeling sick, unable to focus and wanting to stop.  NO WAY… not this time.  Focus on the breathing, count the strokes, slow it down, look for your right bicep, 30 seconds later and it was gone.  RESULT! ….. Then CRASH…into the 2nd big marker bouy and goggles came off.  Hmmm… bit of an error.  I like to swim as close to the markers as possible but a full on head but into an inflatable was funny, but enough to move the goggles off then get that feeling they were not back on right.  I lost about 5 seconds.  Back on it.
 
My Garmin 310 under the hat is a very accurate tool.  For training, I have it set on 500m alerts and laps so I know how far I’m swimming.  Why I did not think to change it to time, I will never know but when I’m swimming relaxed and can focus, I can count to 250 strokes +/- 10 to predict the 500m buzz.  Swimming Lake Annecy last month was weird, I couldn’t do it, and never expected to manage it in a race.  Its continuous counting to 250 without losing count.  In Frankfurt, I managed it…3 times.  That’s what “flow” feels like.  The only real moments of note were swimming on feet until the guy in front just stopped and narrowly missed a facefull of arse, overtaking some female and male pro athletes and thinking back to last year, and then trying to really push the pace after the 3000m buzz.  Perhaps having time alerts may have been more interesting but counting 10 separate 5 minute alerts may have been tricky.
 
Swim exit was a slow and steady affair.  First thing…stop the garmin.  Wetsuit unzipped, hat and goggles off whilst running and looked at the time.  53:15!!!   WTF???   Stop me now, that’s my best ever ironman moment.  That’s the first time I could consider my swim as being fast.  38th fastest Age group swim of the day.  Compare that to 48th on the bike and 6th on the run.   That’s a huge achievement for someone who has a history of crap swimming and open water anxiety.
 
Bike: 
 
95% happy refers to 5 incidents on the day.  The first one was exiting T1.  Garmin would not turn on.  It was on, then shut down, then would not fire up at all.  Riding with one finger on the power button and not working was a real pain.  Once up to about 25mph, it finally came to life.  Ok, nothing lost but swim elation gone.  Now, although clock running, no GPS signal and now just had power and time.  That’s fine.  Riding to power, with a conservative 250w target for the first lap, then try to increase for the 2nd.  For stat lovers, the data…what I recorded (more later)  IF of 0.83 3.6w/kg and VI of 1.06.  Jargon to some, useful for those who get it.
 
Drafting was minimal, those who overtook were caught on hills, power all under control and ticking along well.  The revelation here though was that after spending the last month changing my bike set up daily and getting more and more uncomfortable, the last minute changes last Thursday turned the Planet X Exo 3 into the most comfortable bike I’d ever ridden and was a total pleasure to ride.  No shoulder or neck ache, saddle region all ok and everything holding solid.  
 
My choice of kit was tri shorts and a white heat shield t shirt, white arm covers and old aero hat.  The nutrition plan was a 100g flapjack every hour, carry one bottle of water with 8 electrolyte tablets in, take only water from the feeds, taking one to drink and one to throw over the body to keep wet.   The tactic worked really well, never overheating, no sunburn and not feeling dehydrated or hungry.  I planned on having 2 good long pees on the bike.  That’s not in the hotel room but during the ride.  Beetroot juice would have been interesting to see but despite drinking loads, the wee count was down to one.
 
1st lap, all good.  Nothing really of note. Rattly cobbles and the bike held together well but did have a dropped chain on a descent.  Etap electronic shifting has a drawback here, once the chain was back on, it was over shifting and a bit of nifty footwork to guide the chain back on lost a few seconds.  No drama.  Being this high up the field, the spacing out was quite good, very little drafting, a good showing of motorbike marshals but no one seen in the 3 penalty boxes.  Not one!
 
First lap completed in 2.30 ride time, with another 50 miles to go, this was looking like around a 4.40-4.45 ride, bang on the target of 4.45.   A few riders to chase on the flat run out of Frankfurt, a few passed on the climbs and then had a bit of a ding dong battle with a strong German rider who was also climbing strong.  I was conscious here of keeping power under 340w on the climbs as it was easy to get into racing the guy here rather than keeping to pace.  Through the cobbles for the 2nd time and I pulled away from him, 1 mile later starting the longest climb for the 2nd time and looked down to check the power. 
 
Bollocks!!!  Garmin was no more.  Gone, lost, fallen off.  Disaster.  It was a loan model, not mine.  This was going to be an expensive trip.  Now riding blind, but that’s why you have to do it in training and riding completely on feel.  What’s more this was pretty quiet now.  Ticking along the miles until fellow Brit athlete, Paul Lunn came passed me at around 80 miles, on his way to a blistering 4.33 bike split point out that I had a bit of a tail.  Lots of people behind my wheel.   No drama, I pushed on and counted down the km markers to the finish.  Nothing much to report of any excitement but my 2% so far both down to garmin issues.
 
Run:
 
2k to go and sitting up, spinning the legs into T2 and out onto the run.  Hat, glasses, gum and a bottle of water left out in the sun all day.  Nice.    Straight into the running and first 3k under 4 min km pace and feeling super easy.  Constantly throwing water over myself made the clothing and shoes feel heavy so decided to ditch the arm covers, weighing up the fact that they cost £1 off ebay, it was not a lost garmin.  3k to 4k came  in at a split time of 3.38.  I knew I was running well but that was a tad fast.  I did not believe it, but slowed down anyway, getting ice under the hat and then checked the distance at the 6.5k marker board….my watch showed 6.5km.  Running comfortably at around a 2.45 marathon pace.  It was very hot…31 degrees but wasn’t feeling hot.   Run cadence at 190, feeling good and completed the first 10k in 39.45!
 
My target run time of 2.55 was on!   2nd lap 42 mins.  Slowing a bit but a 1.26 half marathon.  Another 1.29 half and it was a done deal.  3rd lap started ok, but still slowing.  I’m a believer in the “time in the bank” tactic for an ironman run, knowing that you will fade anyway so went for it whilst the going was good.  The heat was now getting to me, no running wees but not feeling dehydrated or hungry but the legs were starting to fade.  At 25k I broke wind.   It was a good one…deep, long and a bit over reaching.  Detail aside, it was either get a bum cheek chaffe or stop at the portaloo.
 
Portaloos are not great places at the best of times.  3 laps into an ironman run, 31 degrees of heat and having been out for days, no doubt used by the locals too, throne of despair I chose for this download was one of the less pleasant examples.  A minute of held breath at most and back to running.  Although light relief, it was not one that puts a spring in your step and expected more from the investment in stopping.  Now down to 97%
 
Pace slowing and at 30k a realisation that the average pace had now slowed to an impossible sub 3 marathon.  A bit of a dark realisation that 4.15 average on the watch and pace slowing meant my full house was now gone again.   No sub 3 today.  Not a great fan of hot weather but there was still the sub 9 to go.   96%. I had 55 minutes to run the final 10k, which should have felt easy.  Well it was to just keep moving but not at any pace now.    At 32k it was a bit of a moment to stop, get some oranges, drink a load of water then finish the final lap.  The pace increased a little, or at least stopped slowing and then the final 5k of the run felt a lot better.  The final 1k became a bit of a sprint finish with a few other athletes and then made a clear run to the finish.
 
Crossing the line on 8.50, my 2nd fastest ever ironman and a solid 3.05 run.  53 swim, 4.44 bike, 3.05 run and about 5 minutes behind a time I would have been over the moon with.  A solid race and 95% happy.   The final 1% upset was finding out I came 2nd Over 40.   I would have needed to have run 2.55 to win.  Doable…not this time.  I needed another 9 minutes and if it was 1-2 mins maybe the transition, garmin and poo stop were to blame but 9 minutes is convincing.  2nd in Europe is ok though and the oldest man to go sub 9 hours.  Perhaps next one will be in the V45 category and dominate the world.
 
It was not a story of illness or adversity but just an honest race, slighty falling 5% short.
 
However, the weekend was not about me but the team of athletes that came out with me.   Performance of the day was Lisa Melvin, having swum lake Annecy in June, spending 3 years unable to run, having a top 30 female swim, a sub 6 hour bike and run/walking her way to a sub 12.30 first ironman is just an incredible achievement for someone who’s injury history has meant she would be unable to run 1k let alone 42.
 
Vicky Nealon, in her first ever triathlon, finishing 5th in 10.11 would have been 2nd if she had not suffered the same juggling garmin as my, but she went back for hers, costing 13-15 mins and would have achieved a sub 10 hour ironman on debut with a 3.25 and fastest in age group run of the day.
 
Adrian Sarkies, with swim, bike and overall PB of 10.36 and toughing out a great ironman performance having managed an ongoing knee condition for a few years and lost a fair chunk of marathon training.
 
Keith Edwards with a Frankfurt PB having returned from 11 years ago to get a bike PB and a 10.42 ironman finish and 9th in the 55 Age group
Dave Phillips who set a blistering 5.12 bike split and went 10.44 in his 3rd ironman, taking another minutes off his Ironman PB from Barcelona in 2016
 
Special mention to Peter Wright, who returned after 11 years to have an adminfest race and had the hardest battle of the lot.  Overcoming mechanical issues and heat/stomach issues on the run to finish another ironman but could so easily have packed it in.
 
Next race in 2 weeks… Alpe Duez Triathlon!
 
UPDATE:  The garmin was returned by the race officials!

12 July 2017