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2019 – Learning to Race Badly

Well that didn’t quite go to plan!

I’ve been pondering this race report for a few days now. It’s Thursday, the race was Sunday and I’m still not quite sure how this is going to pan out.

_MG_2114My legs are still smashed, my pride in a bush in Hamburg somewhere and any 2019 Kona dreams are now a distant memory.

Going into the race I felt absolutely in the shape of my life! As I did in Africa, as I did in Barcelona. But this one is slightly different. There’s nothing I’d have changed, nothing I’d do differently. Though it didn’t come off.

3/3 races have gone South for a variety of different reasons, and they’ve all taught me their respective lessons.

I’m still struggling to put my finger on just what went wrong in Hamburg. Sure, you can say I overbiked – but I was very sensible. And sure, you can say I hit the first half of the run too hard, but again, I knew exactly what I was doing. Or so I thought.

_MG_2074It’s clear that something went wrong. And whatever it was I need to put my finger on it to make sure I don’t do it again.

2019 has been difficult for me, I don’t really think I’ve found my feet in any race. Stafford/Hever are probably the closest I’ve come, but there’s still been more to learn, lots I would have done differently. Which is really hard to take, and mentally it’s difficult to keep pushing when you feel like you’re just not capable of the race you’re chasing.

And as I write, I find myself wondering. Am I as fast as I think?

_MG_2059Sure. I know I’m not one of the worlds best, but am I actually just an average age grouper?

On my day I can hold more than 95% of age groupers to the tape once we get onto the bikes. But that elusive sub 9 still evades me. So many would have, could haves. What ifs and maybes.

When I write down the sub 9 ironman on paper, how it looks, it’s achievable:

1:05 swim. I’ve swam that comfortably twice now.

_MG_22084:40 bike. Well I’ve done around that 3/4 times and can knock that out in training no worries. Regardless of weather, though mountains usually have their say.

That’d leave a 3:10 marathon if you took 5 minutes in transitions… Which I’ve done twice.

I’ve run a 3:05 off the bike and a 2:42 marathon straight. A 1:20 half off the bike after holding 305W and some huge runs in training… but then I’ve never quite strung it together in an Ironman. Barcelona is probably the closest I’ve come with the flats & crash holding me back.

_MG_2154So it sounds do-able on the right course. Which would put me right up there with the top Age-Groupers on most days. I’ve beaten guys that are now pro, I’ve come within minutes of some of the worlds top Age Groupers.

So it must be in there. But yet again I find myself well behind the dream.

It’s hard to take. Hard to swallow.

If you were to write a list of things you need to complete to do a sub 9 ironman, I’ve probably punched every ticket. In training the form is there, the speed is there. But it just hasn’t happened. And what you’re capable of are very different to what you’ve done. Anyone could say they could do it.

So we have to work out where the races are going wrong. And taking the lessons from the races. You only lose if you don’t learn something.

Ironman Hamburg:

_MG_2052In Hamburg I learned that my swim is moving in the right direction. I swam comfortable and didn’t pick a particularly good line or get any feet, but still snook under that 1:05. We’ll work on this through the winter to find some extra speed at the cost of the other two disciplines. It’s clear that’s what needs to happen.

I rode a 4:42 without a Garmin and barely riding for the last 20km to make sure I was ok going into the run. I rode solo for the whole 185km. Pressed into the pedals. Nobody to pace me, nobody to hide behind, just me and my thoughts. It was possibly the best ironman bike leg of my career.

_MG_2084It was windy, hot and relentless. But my heart rate was under control, I was careful with my nutrition and followed the plan. I knew early doors I’d also have work to do, and I did that work. From start to finish I executed a fantastic bike and wasn’t far behind some of the pro’s who were working off each other.

Coming off the bike I was exactly where I wanted to be. Physically, mentally, I was ready to go. My legs felt good and I took to the run course strong. I was careful to pace the first 10km at an intensity I could hold for well more than a half. And I was pulling myself back. I eased up the hills and let my legs flow on the descents. (not that there were many of either).

_MG_2115Half way and I was into 2nd, 8th Age grouper on the road and still feeling strong. Hurting, but feeling strong. I was racing boldly, aggressively and how I like to race. Chasing and not worrying.

And the next thing I knew. I was sat on the pavement at KM 25 wanting it to end. Wishing it was all over and I could stop. I’ve never wanted to quit anything more in my life. I was ready to walk back into town and hang up my hat.

Paul Lunn barked at me, told me to get up and get going. I responded almost instantly. It was the voice I needed. I was back, locked in on Paul’s shoulder and trotting. I could still hold on for 3rd I told myself. But my stomach was turning, my head pounding. My body didn’t want to play.

_MG_2173I fought and battled. I’d trained so hard, sacrificed so much. I couldn’t let myself quit now.

But it was too late.

My core temperature had got out of hand, I couldn’t bring it down. I was watching everything I’d thought of for the last few years slipping away and there was nothing I could do.

I brought myself to a walk. Refocus, 2 minutes then run the rest.

_MG_2079At KM 34 I quit. I don’t know why, but I headed straight first for a bush. Probably seeking shade, somewhere to get away from the sun. Somewhere people couldn’t see me.

A German man who’d watched me go in from 300m down the road fished me out. “my friend, you’ve got 3 bands. You’re not stopping here”.

But my day was over. I followed him as much as I could. He was on his first lap, a long way to go. But he had an infectious enthusiasm. He’d dreamed of this day for a long time, he wasn’t going to let the heat stop him.

_MG_2137I couldn’t let him down. I resorted to a run/walk. Broken. The glasses/visor combo hiding a face that didn’t want to be seen. Fixated on the floor.

I made an effort to jog from the last timing mat down to the finish. I crossed the line with a 3:37. A 9:33 total.

It’s hard to find perspective in the chaos. I was chaperoned to the finish area but I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want to be around anything to do with the sport. I was devastated, I really felt like I’d let myself down.

I quickly left to find a quiet corner with my family, and broke into tears pretty shortly after.

_MG_2246There was no sweet taste of finish line. I didn’t even feel like I’d battled when it went wrong. Having stopped running 3/4 times I felt like I’d quit on myself.

It’s in these moments that you really realise how much it all means.

So much sacrifice, so many things you miss to train, sleep, eat well. So many things I’d do different if I wasn’t in the sport, and for what?

Well I’ll tell you.

For the dream. For the hope of a good day. For the race I know I’m capable of. Knowing that the harder I fight day in day out, and the more times I put myself on that start line.. One day it’ll come off.

So I have to look forward. There’s nothing I’d change about the race, nothing I wouldn’t do again. Nothing I’d do differently in my build up. And that gives me confidence.

It wasn’t my day, it wasn’t meant to be. I can’t change that.

_MG_2105My next race is the 70.3 World Championship in Nice. I’m going for no other reason than to have a good hard hit out, and cross the finish line with a smile on my face. I’ve got no expectation, no plans. I’m racing with some of my closest friends in the sport and against some athletes I hugely admire. People I’ve raced and trained with on and off for the last few years. It’ll be a fantastic experience and I’ll soak up every minute of it.

Then, before 2019 is out I’ll stand on an ironman start line again. I don’t know when and I don’t know where. But the race will have a main focus.

It’ll be to race well.

To finish 2019 feeling like I’ve left it all out there. Nothing unfinished. No if’s, no buts. No what ifs.

_MG_2104So I have to regroup for that. From Monday morning I’ll be back at it. Making myself as fit as possible. Leaving no stone unturned as we go into the last few months of the season. So that when winter comes around I can embrace it with a smile on my face. Enjoy some time off and focus on my 2020 plans knowing I’ve done everything I can, and take plenty of positives from the season. 2020 is the time when I hope to really learn how to dominate the distance. Rather than let it dominate me.

The ironman distance is a difficult one. It’s a beast like no other. And you absolutely can’t be on top form every race. So I have to take the hits, learn the lessons and keep moving forward.

For now I’ll leave you with the Theodore Roosevelt quote that’s been ringing in my ears all week:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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