I got to Panama City Beach on Tuesday night, about 6 hours later than anticipated thanks to a cancelled domestic flight with AA. Luckily I had a set of run kit and some swim trunks in my hand luggage as the rest of my luggage failed to appear with me. It finally arrived late Thursday night (ahead of a Saturday race) so I was guaranteed to be bike-rested at least J I wasn’t too upset by this however as most of Tuesday and Wednesday were monsoonal – not too cold but torrential rain, so I just snuck out in the occasional dry spell for a quick sea swim or run down the beach.
It seemed a fitting way to end the prep for the race – rounding out the general lack of consistent training in the previous few months. Recurrent run injury since IMUK had broken my motivation, bad planning with work offered too much of an excuse to skip training – to sum up, I’d had one good 10 day block of riding done in Lanza but was generally very underdone.
So I entered race week in a peculiar state of mind. Ironman is very mental – knowing your potential and aiming to achieve is a large part performing well on race day. But I can’t blag that – I get that confidence through consistent training, through performing on a daily and weekly basis. There’s only so long you can carry on racing on the fumes of good training in the distant past.
Some might say this is not a positive attitude and that I limited my performance by not believing enough in myself. And you’d be right. But my work ethic requires certain things - the tenet that I base training on is not on winging it. I wanted to teach myself a lesson. Some part of me wanted to hurt, to go through the motions of racing and do only as well as I deserved.
Race morning promised a bright, dry day, but holy cow it was cold. The sand burnt your feet it was so cold. The water, at 72 degF was pleasant and the best place to wait for race start. The swell had calmed down from the day before, but was still a factor. The buoys were certainly not in a straight line, causing a few interesting sighting issues. The gun went and all I can say for the swim was it went. I didn’t go hard, I didn’t fight for position, it was a pleasant, cruisy sea swim with a few detours when I missed a turn or was blinded swimming into the sun. The hardest part of it was the beach run halfway and the run into T1. T1 was LONG. Numb hands and feet made getting arm warmers on and gels into pockets a challenge: luckily the volunteers were awesome!
The first hour of the ride was COLD. So I found I pushed hard. Power numbers were high, but it kept me warm. I over took the first three women within the first 10miles, and another couple of male pros by mile 15. Then the roads got a little empty, but I was riding well and felt comfortable. Then a right turn came onto a back road that was shaded by trees. The temperature seemed to plummet and my teeth started chattering. I watched as my power dropped 40 watts as I started shaking. I gripped the aerobars a bit tighter, but could barely feel them.
And so started a big patch of nothing in the middle of the ride. It lasted approximately 3 hours. Even when I warmed up a bit, the power didn’t return. I was twiddling around at long easy ride wattages. I kept expecting a pack of age groupers to roll on past, but only a couple of guys came past in the whole period. A couple of turn around points helped put my position into perspective, and it wasn’t actually as bad as it was feeling.
The last hour or so, things seemed to pick up. After a long period battling into headwinds (which felt like the majority of the ride!) the ride back into town was an opportunity to pick the average speed up again, although the power numbers were actually still rubbish and still dropping. But I overtook a few people in the last hour, which always make you feel a bit better – especially after riding for so long without many people around.
Coming into T2 my hands and feet were still so numb that I couldn’t get my compression socks on. Again the volunteers were awesome, but even for them it was a challenge as I couldn’t feel my toes to know they were getting caught on the sock material.
Out onto the run, everything was hurting. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just tough it out for a couple of kms and it’ll ease off. But by mile one, the only thing that had eased off was the numbness in my feet, and the entirety of my lower legs felt like they were swollen, and tightness in the front of my calves was making running difficult. Added to that my lower back was killing from a long ride in the aero position without decent preparation for it… my run form must have looked very strange! I tried to keep going, focusing on cadence, but the after a couple more miles it was getting unbearable, so I started to stop and stretch fairly regularly and walked every aid station. By about mile 7 my legs had eased off and the lower back had eased out. By mile 9 I finally felt like I could get into my normal run pattern. But I was dreading heading back into town. The massive crowd support for a few miles either side of the race village meant that I had to smile. Normally I love interacting with the crowd and am more than happy to exchange words and joke around, I wasn’t really in the mood. I knew at any moment my lack of run fitness could bite back and all I wanted to do was take on calories and fluids to try to stop this. I’d been running with a PowerBar belt loaded with gels, and had used them all already, as well as picking up more at aid stations.
By the turnaround on the second lap, I needed to run under 7min miles to squeeze in under 9 hours. My pace had been drifting as fatigue kicked in properly and a few muscle groups decided to revolt. Even though it was a tough call, I wanted to hurt myself at least trying. This was going to be my lesson. I needed to learn that to do well at Ironman, I need to train accordingly and not just drift through and hope for a miracle. Passing the 23 mile mark at 8:40, I just thought 20minutes of pain (and then whatever change to the finish). And that’s what it was.
The result? 9:01:02, 18ht MPro. Man, that finishing shoot goes on for EVER. Disappointed? Not really, I got what I deserved. A day of hurt, lows and pain, and hopefully a valuable lesson learnt. Sometimes the best way to get back on track is to see how far off it you’ve gotten. I’d prefer to learn that lesson at the end of this season than in the middle of the next. Let’s hope I’ve taken it on board.
But congrats to Timex team mates Tamara who finished 4th FPro and Luis who finished his 70th Ironman (sic) and got his spot to Kona. Way to represent, guys!