After an encouraging 2015 coming on the back of glandular fever the year before I was keen to step it up and start to become competitive. I learnt a lot the year before regarding nutrition, preparation and recovery and was itching to get going again. The problem was I'd been injured from attempting to kite surf since October. A few months of DIY hadn't helped the recovery and so when I had an MRI of my right knee in Feb I had tough choices to make.
I wanted to revisit Mallorca and go sub 11 but I had a tear in my lateral meniscus, mild bursitis and tendon damage. Not from running I hasten to add. From failing to release from my binding when I wiped out mildly. So come the end of Feb I decided to take a gamble and book Mallorca. I also invested in a new bike to help trim some time of the ride. There could be no excuses then.
Training started slowly, mainly building up the bike which I hadn't been on for 4 months. Running started slowly too but soon I was doing 50 mile rides without a sore bum and getting off feeling reasonably Ok. The running built up steadily to 7k over 3 weeks but then I stupidly went back to 10k followed a week later with 15k. That irritated the knee and I had to ease off. Rule of thumb 10%-20% a week from base of your normal run. Not 50% each time. Come April I was feeling good and took part in a tough sportive in Pembrokeshire. An upset stomach and back ache from the 7 hour journey to get there put paid to any decent time. I was disappointed but it was good base training. I didn't feel ready for the first middle distance in May so booked up to the Breacon race again.
So in mid June I headed off to Wales again hoping for a better journey. I got there in plenty of time and familiarised myself with the course again. This time for breakfast I had cold porridge (as they don't do brekkie at 4am) with plenty of low fibre carbs. I had my bike loaded with gels and three water bottles as there aren't bottle replacements on that race like Ironman. However it is half the cost and just as much fun. So the swim went OK, it was a better field this year, the lake is shallow so the weed was a problem until towards the end I realised it was quicker to pull myself along on it!
The bike started well passing a lot of better swimmers early on, including one who stopped for a pee. All that training ruined by a full or nervous bladder! The big descent was a little slower this year due to bigger profiles on the wheels making the handling a bit dodgy in the crosswind but the flatter sections were a breeze until a lorry coming the other way nearly blew me off the bike. Going back up the hill was much faster as I stayed seated this year. It's much more efficient and shaved a lot of time. So I arrived back in T2 in a good position. The run this year didn't start with a cramp as I had trained a little better, but I had forgotten my salt caps so started to tighten up. The only solution was eating some crisps at a fed stop. Here's a big tip, remember your caps, crisps aren't easy to breathe. Mild choking over I continued on and nearly got to the end without cramp. It got me on a downhill about two miles out. End result over 37 mins faster than my first year, 6th in my age group. So getting closer to the silverware.
My next race was Swanage Olympic which went well apart from nearly crashing on loose gravel on a dangerous corner (that should have been swept). At T2 I was 4th overall for the first wave of athletes, I was holding my own and eventually overtook the chap in front. Stupidly though I let him pass me on a steep narrow section. I hate steep downhills as they hurt me behind my patellae. If I had kept him behind I would have been able to stay with him till the end. So I assumed I was 4th in my age group and went home disappointed. However I forgot that there were younger ones running with us older folk and I was actually 3rd. So I missed what would have been my first trophy presentations. Dumpkoff!
All of 2016 had been building up though for another shot at Ironman Mallorca. This time I was better prepared with my feeding strategy and had support with nutrition for the run. In hindsight I hadn't done enough run training again.
The day started with thunder and lightening off to the East in the pre dawn sky. Adding to the nerves was a late announcement allowing us to use wetsuits as the sea had cooled from the day before. This lead to mass stress and lots of haunted looks as people ran around trying to get back to cars to get kit. Not the best preparation but with about 15 minutes to spare I was at the start and ready as I'd ever be.
The swim started in calm waters and I found myself in the usual washing machine wondering why on earth I do this sport. That was soon followed by me repeatedly trying to sight the turning buoy which seemed to be off in infinity somewhere. After an age we were making the first turn and heading back to shore only to do it all again. From there it was off to T1, at this point I was 1 minute down on 2015. Thankfully I had been given a good spot in transition and didn't have to run the bike too far. The bike leg was a breeze to begin with and I made good time until unexpectedly (and it's never happened since), the chain came off and jammed in the back brake. Thankfully a support mechanic was passing at the time on a motorbike and assisted me. I then got cramp in my thigh getting back on the bike. He gave my leg a massage, which was very kind and off I went to catch up the 100 people who had gone past!
As the bike leg went on thunder clouds started to build and the main worry by this point was how I would survive slick tyres and carbon rims in heavy rain coming down the mountain. Having had a similarly traumatic experience earlier in the year I was pushing hard to get down from the mountain before the rain came. Thankfully I made it down in the dry. By this time the wind was picking up and heading back to Alcudia where it all started was hard work into the wind. I was very annoyed by some cyclists who were grouping together and draughting. This makes it a lot easier and is illegal. There were no Marshalls in sight which was equally annoying as there should have been penalties aplenty. Anyway as I headed back to T2 the sky was black as ink and riven with flashes of lightening, the second time up the high street to T2 there was hardly anyone in sight and it was all a far cry from a couple of hours earlier. The bike was over 30 mins faster than the year before.
T2 went well, a quick stop for necessities and I was on my way to great encouragement from my wife Karen who was there in the rain trying to give me fluids and gels. I was fully loaded so declined and splashed my way round the first 10k in good time. The run was 4 laps of about 10k plus a little bit. At lap 2 Karen was still there getting wet and I still didn't take on some fluids and gels. That was a mistake. I soon started slowing my pace and no matter how hard I tried couldn't get faster. This was partly due to fatigue but also down to lack of nutrition. Lap 3 I took some on board as it was need badly, but also Karen was going to murder me as she was still in the rain and feeling like a spare part. I trundled o and got steadily slower, but importantly I didn't walk. Last year I had walked at the feed stations as it was the only way to get fluids down. This time I carried mine round and it made a big difference to my time. Eventually I was on my last lap and running faster than those around me. It was still slow though and I had run out of salt caps. When that happens cramp is far away. So with just 2k left out of the 42 I got a twinge of cramp, slowing didn't help and it grabbed me hard in the hamstrings as usual. Trying to stretch just set of another and I was immobilised. Lots of panting and swearing at my legs later I managed to shuffle along and eventually got back my pace. So finally after what seemed an age the finish line was in sight and I put in one last sprint to overtake a bearded chap ( Karen wanted me to beat the beards) and virtually collapse over the line in 10:53 hours. My marathon time was 4:01 so I was gutted that it wasn't sub 4 due to the cramp.
I was overcome with emotion and had to have a lie down for 30 mins while I recouperated. That helped me feel better but I had stiffened up significantly in that time. The lessons I learnt this time round. Run more as it gets hard on the run when you pass your normal training distance of 15 and there's still 27 to go! Take on fluids when you feel you don't need them on the run. Don't stop moving when you finish.
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