Wednesday 14 May 2014

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Mallorca

Hola, bienvenido a Mallorca!

It's Ironman MC Paul Kaye's fault we're here. We were talking at the awards ceremony after IM 70.3 Zell am See/Kaprun last year and discussing the races we'd be doing this year - "Hey why don't you start off in Mallorca, lovely weather and a nice early-season sharpener!" (or something like that). Before we knew it, we'd signed up. And then in no time at all it was here.

We spent the weekend before the race crewing for Louise in the Centurion Running Thames Path 100, a 100 mile running race up the Thames Path from Richmond to Oxford (just seeing it written down looks insane). Louise and that experience deserves more than a footnote here, so I'll post about that later.

No Dexter, you can't come to Spain, you have to go to "kitty hotel"

Mrs and I packed hastily and tiredly on Sunday night, and set off Monday morning to London City Airport. Thankfully it was a bank holiday and very quiet on the underground - bike boxes are large, and great fun on escalators. Coming back it'll be Monday rush hour - can't wait!

My favourite timesheet entries

This is not a rush-hour train

We're off!

Plans to spend the week training hard up to and through the race (not tapering specifically for it, or being too concerned about not feeling fresh) evaporated in the heat, wine, an relaxing atmosphere of Port d'Alcudia, host town for the Ironman 70.3 Mallorca. We went out for a lap of the bike course, had a few swims (particularly sea swims in our wetsuits), and I went for one run - a sweaty 10km out and back to see what the run course terrain was like (very flat). Not the heavy training week I had in mind, but a nice relaxing time that I certainly don't regret. This is by no means an a-race, I won't beat myself up about less than perfect preparation at this stage.

A meal on our terrace (yes, I know it looks like breakfast, no we weren't having wine for breakfast)

When we arrived on Monday afternoon there was no sign of there being a race the following weekend. Sure, there were a lot bikes around, but Mallorca is big for cyclists so I expect that's as normal. During the week the excitement built as the Ironman show came to town. Big Ironman trucks, miles of barriers, and more miles of blue carpet that ran the length of the longest transition I've ever seen. With more than 3,500 athletes taking part, this is Ironman 70.3 racing at scale.

Lots of people out to check out the bike course a few days before the race

Bike-friendly petrol station and café

Very high with a glorious sequence of switchbacks to get back down

Unfortunately, Mrs took a pretty bad tumble in transition the day before the race and hurt her knee pretty badly - it immediately swelled up and went purple - for a while we though she'd broken it. She was destined not to start the race, so it was up to me to get team Driskell on the score sheet.

All registered!

Expo on the beach - it's a totally different atmosphere in this kind of climate

A little retail therapy!

"Hello, yes, your two truckloads of Ironman have arrived"

Building the longest transition I've ever seen

Let no trade mark remain uninfringed!

The day before I racked up my bike. It wasn't a "clean" transition, so we were permitted to leave he;mets and race numbers on the bikes. This is unusual in my experience, maybe because all the other races I've done have been in windy places where it's a near-miracle if your bike hasn't blown away over night, never mind anything left resting on it!

See you tomorrow! (check out the beautiful BMC TM01 on the left *swoon*)

This is what a 3,500+ bike transition looks like

We were staying at a hotel very near the start so race day morning was pretty low stress - particularly with only one of us racing. We walked down to the beach and I popped into the sea to acclimatise. I've suffered from panics in the swim before so I'd been practising running down the beck into the sea during the week. The panics always clear in a few minutes, but it takes time and is very unpleasant. The worst I've experienced was at IM Wales in 2012 which was admittedly my fault (why I thought "run in from the front" was a good idea I'll never know), but was a highly unpleasant experience none the less. I also freaked out in the London Triathlon last year, and IM 70.3 Zell am See. I'm convinced it's nothing but a lack of experience and confidence, so we spent a fair amount of time earlier in the week practising starts.

Off for a practice swim

Mrs on the beach

Contents of my white bag, for before and after the race

My BFFs on race day

The swim: 0:33:28

During my warmup I watched the pro waves start, and then the big wave with all the female age groupers - more than 600 of them, a seemingly never ending stream of pink swim caps. Feeling relaxed, I went to the assembly area to await my start. M35-39 is the biggest group in this race so we had our own start wave. I had decided to start at the back on the left to give myself as much room as I could to relax at the start. I never get panicked once I'm going, it's just something that has happened after 15-30 seconds of swimming. Once it's cleared which takes what feels like an age but is probably only one or two minutes and I relax, I find my rhythm again.

Swim course was a nice easy single loop

The gun sounded and we were off. I walked down into the water to try and keep my heart rate from spiking with excitement and effort of running through the shallows in a wetsuit (maybe a contributing factor to panics?) and jumped in. Massive props to Mrs for teaching me how to running-jump into the water, it make a big difference to enter cleanly and without slowing down much. It was busy, but I had some room to myself to settle in. No rising panic, good news. I gradually turned on the power as I got more comfortable and started overtaking people. This is the most frustrating thing, once I get going I'm reasonably fast, but to avoid freaking out (or to take the time to recover if I have) I always start at the very back and have to battle through people. I need to make it a priority to get as much open water experience as I can in training this year.

Hitting the "lap" button at swim exit

I had a good swim out without much contact, got a little bit bashed round the turn buoys but that's normal in a big group. The return leg was a bit rougher as I got caught in a bit of a pack and couldn't get through. My group swimming sills are poor, something to work on. Still, it could have been worse, I saw one poor chap disappear at right angles to everyone else, off to the other side of the bay being frantically chased by a marshall in a kayak. There's always someone cocking it up worse than you, and I'm pretty sure I've been that guy in the past!

I was making an effort to sight every 3rd breath and I'm fairly sure it paid off, I swam in a straighter line than normal. I have an annoying tendency to drift to the right if I don't sight frequently. I ended up setting a new personal best for a 70.3 swim, so I'm certainly happy with that.

Transition 1 (Swim to Bike): 0:07:21

T1 was good, normally I find my heart rate goes through the roof after swim exit and I can barely walk never mind run, but this time I jogged at a respectable pace all the way up the beach, grabbing my blue bag, and into the change tent. Often I lose many tens of places here, but not today. Hopefully I can do the same at IM 70.3 UK in five weeks.

The blue bike bag for T1 (helmet, glasses and race number were all mounted on my bike)

I took the time to put socks on, not really for the bike but more to protect from blisters on the run. Stuffed a couple of gels in my pocket, and ran off to fetch my bike - it was a good three-quarters of the way down transition, and took an age to get there. As I was on my road bike I couldn't clip my shoes to the bike in advance so I had the added annoyance of running in my road-bike shoes.

Transition, measured by my Garmin, at a little over 400m from end to end!

The bike: 03:19:09

Seeing as it was supposed to be a training week I'd decided to bring my road bike rather than my triathlon time-trial bike (tri-bike). I should have realised that as soon as I was in a race I would want to race with any thoughts of "it's just a training ride" going straight out the window. Therefore, I regretted my bike choice almost immediately.

In the first few kilometres I overtook a host of people from the wave before, all on their swanky tri-bikes and my on my creaky old Fuji road bike. Within the first 20km I realised that riding so long on the dropped handlebars with little variation in power and cadence was going to wreck my hip flexors. You don't get the same amount of leg extension on a road bike as you do a tri-bike, and the leg and bum muscles are engaged differently. Not changing position much wasn't helping.

The one-lap course is in toughly four sections. A 20km flat start, a 10km sequence of climbs, 15km back down again, and then the second 45km half on the level with just the odd pimple to shave off a little momentum.

Looking happy on the bike

With over 3,500 bikes hitting the circuit over the course of an hour and a half there was bound to be some congestion. It was virtually impossible to get the right distance away from everyone. The draft-busting motorbikes tried their best, but it's kind of pointless - you're almost permanently in a position of overtaking or being overtaken, and the differences in speed are often so small that packs naturally form, particularly on uphills. I don't know what the solution is - enter smaller races or try not to be hacked off by the ones doing it deliberately (and, as always, there were many of those).

The big climb came - I knew what I was in for having ridden the course on Tuesday. It felt harder today, I was slow and many many people overtook me. It didn't help that in first gear my derailleur was clicking against my spokes. Minus ten points for bike prep. Looking back I don't remember buckling down and trying hard to get up the hill quickly, I just rode up the hill. Maybe that's why I lost so much ground, I wasn't trying hard enough?

Pretty tired here, this was in the final kilometre

At the top I had one of the two gels I had planned, and set off on the descent. It turns out Team Freespeed's Sam Baxter and his friend Tom Babbington were at at the top cheering people on - I didn't see them, but they saw me. "You didn't look very happy!" was their comment. "I didn't feel very happy!" was my response.

The downhill was a lot of fun, I recharged my legs and made up quite a lot of places through understanding how to go round switchbacks. Some really very poor bike handling was on display from some of my fellow athletes. One poor guy crashed on the first corner of the descent - imagine putting all the effort in to get to the top, and then not getting to enjoy the downhill. Bummer.

My legs were feeling pretty tired as I passed 60km and had my second gel. The last third of the course is flat, some on wide main roads. Riding the course on Tuesday I didn't enjoy this bit as we were into a headwind, but today there was a nice tailwind so we all spun along at high speed in a high gear. As the faster athletes from the waves behind flew past me I again lamented not bringing my tri-bike. My legs were not happy, I knew I could and should be going faster, but being cramped up on the drops for over two hours now was taking its toll.

One-lap bike course...

...with one big hill in it!

Team Freespeed's Matt Malloy passed me at 63km. His wave went off 50 minutes behind mine! I expected to see him, but not quite so quickly. He's a totally monster on the bike, but I shouldn't have been this easy to catch. Turning off the main road we had a few kilometres into the wind now, and my hip flexors were screaming. I tried different grips, sat forward or backward on my seat, but nothing helped - they were just fried from trying to ride my road bike like a time trial bike. I slowed considerably and lost a lot of time (and places) in this section.

Thankfully the last 15km was back with the slight tailwind and I cruised back into transition knowing it could have gone a lot worse. The opportunity to recharge my legs a bit was welcome, but I wasn't sad to get off the bike.

Off the bike and into transition

I had previously decided to ride my road bike at Ironman 70.3 UK too, this experience has made me reconsider. I'm going to ride the course in a couple of weekend's time - I may take both bikes and see what the difference is. Last time I rode that course I had a bit of a crap time - but that was due to some mechanical troubles, lack of experience, and picking stupid carbon rims that made stopping a nightmare experience!

Transition 2 (Bike to Run): 0:05:34

Pleased to finally get off the bike I jogged back all the way to the change tent. I cursed leaving my shoes on rather than leaving them on the bike - running in socks would have been much faster! T2 is always uneventful, helmet off, gloves off, running shoes and cap on, turn your number belt round, don't lose your sunglasses.

The red run bag for T2

Being a bit concerned about the heat and possible chafing I decided to try some Sailfish lube I got at the expo. It goes on like roller-ball deodorant - I liberally applied it under my arms, and where the seams on my top were. Not much worse than running in the sun with armpit chafing-pain!

The run: 02:22:30

In short, my run was terrible. I'd rather have done another lap of the bike course (and that's saying something).

By the time I got on the course it was well over 30C and climbing by the minute. In retrospect I think my problem was that I never actually started running - I set off at a shuffle and didn't try hard enough to get my legs and rhythm into a proper run. My kilometre splits quickly dropped to 6:30 and then 7:00 as I made my way round the three-lap half-marathon course.

Apart from at aid stations where I topped up with water and wet sponges I resisted the urge to walk. I felt I needed a boost so took to drinking a small cup of cola at each aid station. Sometimes this was straight from the fridge, a most welcome surprise when it happened.

Let's be honest, this isn't really running...

I got some more encouragement from Sam out on the course (I noticed him this time), and managed to see Mrs once too. I lost hundreds of places; everyone was running faster than me. I think it was a combination of heat and poor mental strength. My learning from this going to IM 70.3 UK in five weeks' time is that I have to be mentally stronger and force myself to actually running, otherwise I'll never get there. It's easy to say now "I could have run if only I'd tried", but I really do feel that's the case.

I finished in a new PW (personal worst) for a 70.3 run, but it was by far the hottest half marathon I've ever completed. My shoulders burned a bit despite factor 30 sun cream. I should have made better provision to cover myself up - I'm fairly sure that didn't help either.

At last!

It was a relief to end the shuffle-fest and cross the line - I tried to look happy for the camera, but I'm not sure it worked. Mrs met me at the end, she still had her athlete wristband on so was able to meet me in the recovery area. I was finding the noise and crowd a bit disorienting, so we made our way out and got an ice cream. Ice cream fixes everything!


Overall: 06:28:02

It wasn't a race I was aiming for, it was a bit of fun in the sun. I had a confidence-boosting swim, learned a bit on the bike, and didn't enjoy the run. Although I'm disappointed with my overall time, a personal worst at the distance, I have to look objectively at the day. A bit of race experience when it's been a long time since I've raced, and a week in the sun relaxing with the Mrs.

On the beach afterwards, with a hoodie from Mrs to protect my burny bits!

"What's that? Time for a glass of vino, you say?!"

Party time!

In the evening we had dinner with some of the Black Line London crew. I've loosely known a couple of them via Twitter, but it was great to put some faces to names and meet some new people - they're a good bunch, say hi if you get the chance. Following that I drank heavily at their after-party, the Black Line London race day cocktail helped take the edge off!

As always, the post-race glow has now hit me hard and I'm already wanting to come back next year - but this is precisely what I said I wouldn't do, sign up for races a year in advance and lock myself into a schedule! Maybe one little 70.3 would be OK? I know that with better prep and mental toughness I can go so much faster, easily an hour quicker on this course. I feel that IM 70.3 Galway in 2012 is the only 70.3 where I've really put the effort in on the day and finished knowing I couldn't have gone any faster - I even took ten minutes off my previous half-marathon PB. This is going to be my mission for IM 70.3 UK in June - to really try hard and give it everything.

Before that though is the Blenheim Triathlon in a month. I'm looking forward to a sprint, it's been a long time since I've "left it all out there" in a sprint distance race. I'd better go dust off the tri-bike for that one.

This is a very hard way to get new jewellery and clothing


  1. Great post Normal. Definitely a race for my bucketlist. Good luck to you and Kate for the rest of the season.

  2. Loved this post. I've just entered this race for 2015. Eek.

    Thank you for beginning my mental preparation. :-)

    1. Me too, in a drunken fit of excitement! I'll take the right bike this time, not sure I'll be much faster though - good luck :)

  3. Thanks for the great post! I will go over there next week and I am already super excited to get this on. Loved to see all the pictures and I can wait.

    P.S.: Good luck.