Let’s get the excuses out of the way
After deciding that Frankfurt was a long and expensive way to be humiliated by Adam over the iron distance I transferred my spot to IMUK. To say that training has been sub-optimal is a slight understatement, especially as I ended the year with my bear-like training hibernation whilst eating and drinking as if I were actually training 40 hours per week. Then came an extremely busy couple of months at work where 17 hour days became the norm and training continued to take a back seat – along with more beer and numerous pies. Just as this busy work period was coming to an end, the news about Cormac having Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD: more here) threw the world upside down. This firmly put the hobby of triathlon in its place, sucking any training mojo out and replacing it with mourning and grief. It has taken a while for the family not to project 5, 10 or 20 years into the future but to take each day as it comes and be very grateful for the beautiful, handful of a boy that he is.
When I finally started getting back into some sort of training my Atrial Fibrillation attacks came back with a vengeance. In one particularly bad week, I had 8 attacks but since then they’d thankfully stayed away. With a combination of being overweight, stressed and still grieving for Cormac’s diagnosis, it was obvious I couldn’t just jump straight into 16 hours training a week even if I had the time or desire to.
That said, I had now managed to string a few months training together. Although the weight was still way too high, it was now a stone less than its peak at 13 stone (so another stone to shift before Kona) and I was starting to get that feeling of fitness back – not the peak indestructible fitness but that “I’m ready to train hard” fitness, the kind needed to maintain 16+ hours of effort each week. So the goal was to go to UK, see how it all pans out, ideally sneak into the Kona qualification slots as a marker (although I’d already secured my slot at Tahoe last year) and use the fitness gained as a springboard for Epic camp and Kona – simples!
Swimming out to the deep water start was lovely as the temperature was already building and too hot for an overweight Scotsman in a latex suit. It soon became apparent there were a lot of first timers at this race as many of the people were hanging back, meaning I was only one swimmer away from the start. Despite being unsure of my swim fitness I stayed put as there’s lots of space around and I didn’t expect much agro from the gun. So after the usual hectic 50m of people going way too hard I actually found myself in clear water and then on a pair of feet and all was good. Effort was controlled but challenging and on the way back I managed to find a pair of feet that generated more bubbles than a top of the range jacuzzi. I’m pretty sure it looked like this:
What was better was that he was sandwiched between two other swimmers so I had a wall of three with a bubble trail – so easy to follow in the murky water that I didn’t have to sight once for the whole way back. This was brilliant.
Side note – It would appear that the goggles of choice for this race were the Zogg’s Predator Polarised variety – The weather was overcast and the water was murky – I’m surprised anyone could see anything at all!
It was on the first lap of the swim that I started to getting a tightening sensation across my chest. Initially I thought this was the onset of exercise-induced asthma, but the air was warm and I’d been taking my meds so probably not. I didn’t think it was AF as during my previous bad week I’d only once had it whilst swimming and I wasn’t feeling out of breath. I had a few more of these pains throughout the swim, but didn’t give it much thought.
Second lap: out, short run, look at watch – 28 minutes – WOW – get in !! I’m sticking with these guys for lap 2!
Jump back in and pick the guy on the left, head down for the tow, here we go….
Mistake #1 this guy has just dragged me into the middle of the lake. I was way off course and had basically swum at 10 o’clock rather than 12 and now had to swim at 2 o’clock just to get back on track. By the time I got back on proper feet, the ones I found were 2 or so minutes slower than my initial draft but I was resigned to the fact that this could be a recovery lap, it was only a training day and a valuable lesson on drafting had been learnt. I was still pretty shocked to see my overall swim time was 1:01 – that was a costly mistake!
All good in the hood and great to snatch a cheeky kiss from Ella before the bike mount to much “aaawing” from the crowds.
So I knew there was a few bumps in the course profile but it was a tougher course than I thought. Very little flat, some tricky and technical descents and very sharp turns.
Side note: This is a biker’s course. I saw lots of people walking on their first laps when I was going round on my second. The road surface is bad – think 100 miles terrible, 12 smooth – so secure your stuff, there were a lot of discarded bike bits and a fair few punctures (probably from 120 psi tubs hitting potholes). The hazards are very well sign-posted, unlike some random right-hander off a fast descent, which I missed the first time and nearly missed the second time. Also with the number of very sharp turns and with such an undulating course and tricky descents it really encourages bunching of riders. I’ll put my hand up to not just straying into the draft zone but nearly half-wheeling the rider in front of me a few times. I did see some packs, I caught and passed a couple and did end up riding with same the few guys for a bike chunk of the second lap. Thanks to Roger, the winner of the 50-54 age group for a bit of chat and banter as both random cyclists and cars attempted to kill me during the ride and well done on a stonking marathon.
So my ride was really a mixture of cursing the distance (how can lap 1 really take so long?), having fun with the Nathan AP Pro bottle I was trying out and still getting the odd chest tightening. This probably explains why every now and again I found a new gear…I’d be cycling along then BOOM instant energy and I was off, Roger was left behind… then back to the grind again and Roger would sail past 10 minutes later to discuss the latest vehicle trying to reverse into my path. I just thought it was the ebbs and flow you get with long course.
Great to see the sign for T2 and then slip past Jo Carritt on the way back into town so I knew whilst I didn’t feel great and felt like I’d been working harder than planned I was on a decent pace, despite the course.
Another kiss with Ella, another set of “Aaaaws” then straight to the portaloos before getting the run gear on. T2 was nice and empty; lots of bags but plenty of guys out there running already so plenty to chase down. My tactics for the run – hunt for the first half, run scared in the second. Mentally works for me and keeps me pushing through.
First step and something wasn’t right… the run starts with a jog up the hill and I was already walking. When I was running I felt like I wasn’t moving at all and getting passed left, right and centre by all and sundry. This was new territory to me as running is usually my stronger discipline but I knew I wasn’t at my fittest so I decided to not worry and wait for the run legs to kick in. Along the canal path and things still haven’t improved and the run up the hill on to the course loop again turned into a march, my fingers and hands were going numb and tingling and it would seem that I wasn’t going to finish unless I walked the whole marathon. I decided to get through the first turnaround and back into town to see how things felt. If I still felt like crap I’d drop out there knowing the main objective was done. Shortly afterwards I saw Ella walking up the road. I explained that I wasn’t feeling great and she had a quick listen to my chest – as I thought it wasn’t asthma, I was out of sinus and in AF.
OK that was it… no point in pushing it any more, it was now becoming obvious I’d probably been in or in and out of AF for most of the day and this would explain the surges in energy (when things were working) and dips (when things weren’t).
Heading down the road I looked at the run course and inwardly wept, this run course is like a “Ironman Wales-lite” with the hill coming out of the town centre. My ideal run route where run and hill strength play into their own and the change in running gait /style actually favours the stronger runner by working different muscles.
This course was seemingly be designed for me – nice spread out swim, tough bike and undulating run. It’s easy to think what-ifs but even with a sub-standard run I think 10:15 was on the cards. Whether my bike split was down a little too, I can only guess but it certainly felt like I was pushing harder than I should have been outside of those surges in energy.
At the end of the day – a solid swim, bike and a messy 10k off the back is banked, so the training objective is met. Just worrying that the AF reared its head too early on in the race and prevented an IM finish. Was it down to the adrenaline of race day or just down to bad luck and crappy timing – who knows?!?
On Saturday I have my charity Everest cycle attempt – details here – then on to Epic Camp with David and Adam for 12 days of solid training to get ready for the Big Island, then post-Kona we’ll need to have a serious think about things. What is clear is that there’s too much going on for full-distance training so it’ll be halves and shorter for a while.