A week on and I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on last weeks events – this one got quite long, so make sure you’ve got a brew ready!
I always say it, but it’s a very weird feeling when you arrive at your A race. It’s gone through your head every day for almost a year, if not longer. And it finally arrives. You’ve played out every scenario, battered your body for days, weeks and months on end. Every time you’ve hurt in training, it pops into you head. When you want to quit, it propels you on wards. When your whole body is telling you to stop, the thought of the A race picks you up, and gives you an extra gear.
This year for me, that race came in the form of Barcelona. Luckily having had a great season, I knew my form was good. I was confident in my abilities, and I had nothing to prove to anyone. Nothing to prove to anyone but myself that is.
I didn’t need a big result, I didn’t need to go fast. I didn’t need to excel myself. But I really wanted to.
I wanted the race to reflect all the hours I’ve put in. The times I’ve been broken, but still fighting. And the times when it’s just all a bit too much.
The people close to me will know that I don’t really have an off switch. Joel more than anyone knows he’ll never have to tell me to work hard, but he’ll regularly pull me back. I don’t miss training, I do every session to the letter, and give 100% day in day out. When I’m in the triathlon bubble, nothing else matters to me. I’m entirely immersed by it, and I could stay there for days on end.
While some people believe I’ve done some amazing things in my short time in triathlon, I still want more. I don’t feel like I’ve ever executed the perfect race. It’s always just eluded me. I’ve never been fully satisfied with my performance, and that drives me every single day to be better. To push the limits. To see what I’m capable of.
I thought Ironman Barcelona was going to be that race.
And weirdly, to a lot of extent, it was.
Don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, and there are a whole host of things I’d change across all 3 disciplines. I could have gone almost 25 minutes faster on a “good day”.
But what I proved to myself, is that no matter what it throws at me. Until my body is broken and can’t take any more. I’ll keep fighting. Not fighting for places, or positions. But fighting to work hard, and give something back to everyone that works hard for me.
It was a gloomy morning. We left the apartment later than I’d hoped, but that was entirely down to me taking longer to eat breakfast. I was very calm, very composed. I knew exactly what I had to do, and I was visualizing that in my head. My playlist was pumping in my left ear, with my parents nervously knocking around the apartment in my other. We don’t speak much the morning of a race, it’s very tense. Everyone involved knows the routine, knows what has to happen. It’s a carefully calculated process. The ritual that calms the nerves before the battle.
We walked out into the rain. It was going to be a damp one, but we live in the UK, there was nothing there that was different to what I’ve done before.
I got to my bike and the back tyre was flat. No spares, none in my bag. Rookie. I was already acting like the village idiot. Staying calm and collected, I let everyone around me panic. I always knew we’d fix it, but it did get a bit close at one point. With the air in the tyre, I took in the last of my nutrition, dropped my kit and headed down to the start.
It’s no secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the swim, this year it’s been about damage limitation for me. I know I’m never going to win the race here, but as we saw in Almere, I can definitely lose it. I lined up in the 1:05 pen. A time I definitely knew I was capable of, right at the front to avoid the over ambitious athletes that seed themselves 10/15 minutes quicker than they know they can swim. And before I knew it, we were moving. Athletes started in lines of 6 every 5 seconds. I felt ready, I knew what I had to do through the day.
I ran at the water and plunged straight in. With eyes set on the first buoy, I let my arms spin quicker than I knew would be comfortable for the first 3.8k. Right from the start we were being hammered by the waves. The sea was lumpy, unforgiving. I knew it could be a very slow day at the office, but I was determined to go quicker than I have before. It was very busy, I was surrounded by athletes but there was space. It was less punchy that it has been in the past.
From buoy to buoy I knew I was swimming well. Picking a good line despite the thrashing waves, the way out felt smooth. I knew we were in for an absolute storm on the way back. A cheeky look at my watch and the numbers looked good. I did this more to pick up the pace if I needed to, but I was happy where I was. When we turned the waves hit us like a bus. From a relatively smooth outing, this was going to be a long way home. Occasionally you’d time your sighting wrong and look a 4/5 foot wave straight in the face, back down. Go again.
I swam a very wide line on the way back, making it much harder for myself than I needed to. But looking at the watch I knew the distance was slightly short, coming in around 3.6km. So I had 200m of damage limitation.
Out of the water and I looked at the time, 1:05 on the dot, exactly where I need to be. Job done. Straight through transition and I was ready, time to play.
The first 3km of the bike were “aero free”. A quite dangerous technical section, that I knew I’d just have to cruise through. Nobody would be doing anything special here, so wait for the moment to go. I knew as soon as we had that smooth tarmac of the bike course underneath the wheels, I’d be away. Calm and confident.
But something was wrong.
The front wheel was making a clicking sound I was all too familiar with.
It sounded like it was flat, had I picked up a slow puncture over night? The tyre clearly wasn’t pinching the wall of the wheel properly. This meant every rotation, there was a click.
I stopped half way up the hill and gave it a squeeze, it wasn’t flat, I didn’t have any spares anyway. So there was only one option. Attack.
It’s very unnerving riding with a noise from the front tyre. It’s very hard to trust through the corners. I thought it was slowly going flat, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Still riding through people, I knew that the speed was still ok. But was I working too hard for it? My heart rate monitor wasn’t working properly so I had no idea. I was at the mercy of the bike gods. I could only keep believing the training, trust my legs and what I’ve done before. And keep ticking over.
I’d raced for 3 years without the need for power & heart rate, you don’t forget that. I knew I was in control.
Huge packs were already beginning to form out on the course, with the referees not seeming to mind too much, as always. I wouldn’t be able to control anyone else, and I was still riding through packs of 15/20 guys like they were on mountain bikes.
Trying to ignore the wheel, the first 60km went relatively smooth. I’d settled into a nice rhythm, I was doing what I do best, and I felt in control. Sticking to the nutrition and race plan, I was exactly where I needed to be. Coming back into town, I chatted to a referee who told me why front tyre did in fact look spongy. I decided I was going to stop at chat to the mechanics. They’d be able to solve the tyre sharply, and solve these issues. I’d lose 2/3 minutes, but it would still be race on.
I pulled in, we sorted it out, put some air in and I was there less than 2 minutes. Perfect, off we go.
Back on the hunt, I jumped through a big pack and into no mans land. Working hard, but I knew my legs could handle it. I was on the hunt for the front, and I was going to keep working until I made it there. Riding incredibly well, I could see the gap to the pros wasn’t really increasing huge amounts. Because of this I knew I’d be shutting the gap on the Age group field.
Winding down into Sant Pol De Mar, I was tucking into the flat section at just above 50kph, when it hit me. A bang like I’d be shot at, and the front end went immediately slack. Wobbly and hard to control, I’d been here before. Instinct takes over, reactions happen quicker than you can think, and I had to jump straight onto the brakes and take out the speed. Without making any sideways movements, I knew I’d slide. Slow down, stop.
I screamed. Expletives pouring from my mouth, I knew I was in trouble.
I was static for about 20 seconds before I finally pulled myself together.
Well, what were the options?
I didn’t have any spares, not that that would have even helped. I’d blown a hole in the side of the tyre wall, without a new tyre. It was un-repairable. Race over. Season over.
I was 8km and 2 big hills out from the turnaround point, I couldn’t get help even if I wanted it. Static for 90 seconds now, pull yourself together Jack.
Here to race. Here to finish. I flew to Barcelona to battle, to fight until the end, no matter what the outcome.
And before I knew what was happening, I was running. Running with my bike to the turnaround. Even in helmet and cleats I could make that in just shy of 40 minutes, all in I’d lose an hour of racing max. Yeah my legs would be shot. But that’s all part of the fun right?
2/3 minutes passed, 500m down the road when I saw it. Like something out of a movie when they give you a second chance.
Despite being one of the most unlucky athletes at that point in the race, I’d just simultaneously become the luckiest.
“Mechanical Aid – 500m”.
I was at full tilt now. My quads screaming. I’d given up all hope of racing, but I knew I could maybe get the wheel fixed?! they might have a spare tyre, it was a chance at least.
Into the tent and they instantly got to work. No english was spoken, however they were two of the best mechanics I’ve ever seen in action. Knowing exactly what needed to be done, they worked in unison like a formula 1 team to get me back out and into the game. Packs of cyclists were pouring through, I knew I was losing time. But it didn’t matter. I was going to finish, I was going to get a chance to run.
When they handed me the bike back I’d lost around 13 minutes. I knew it was going to be race over, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me laying it all down! I made a decision. I was going to go on the attack, for 90km and see just how much I could claw back. The tyre wasn’t making any more noise, the bike was finally ready to play. So I got stuck in.
Back through the towns, round the bends, up the hill, good descent. Fast flats, neat corners, through a pack, off the front, into the gap, attack, go again. Calculated, collected, fast. I was finally where I needed to be. Making a big move on the front of the race, hungry for speed, with a wry smile on my face. My legs were screaming, lungs burning, and I was so alive.
Obviously as with all my racing, I never seem to take the easy routes. The rain had began to pour, and the roads were getting slippy. Knowing this I was being far more careful through the bends, and making it up on the straights.
Coming into one of the wider roundabouts, I had slowed but clearly not enough. The new tyre lost grip, and the front end whipped out from under me.
Hitting the deck at 40kph, I slid straight into the concrete barrier.
Was this it?
How much did that hurt?
Everything happens so fast, you cover all 354 outcomes in the space of half a second, and before I knew it I was lay on my back facing the sky.
In under half a second, I knew what was about to happen. I was going to get straight onto my bike, and carry on. I’d know pretty quick if there were any issues with the bike/my body.
Before I had time to go into shock, I took on some coke and a gel instantly, and slotted into the back of a big group that had just ridden through to assess myself.
Sore. Sore but moving.
My hip was burning, I couldn’t quite tick over like I had been. But I was still moving.
The next 30km were damage limitation to get myself home and reassess. I rolled into T2 twitchy and sore, but we’d made it.
I had to take a moment to decide whether I was going to run or not. It only took at moment, there was no way I was going to throw in the towel. As long as it was possible for me to be moving – I would be.
I ran out of the tent and onto the run course, the hip was sore. It would bite me later on in the marathon and I knew that. But for now – it was time to do business.
Ticking over nicely, I took the race km by km. Picking off athlete after athlete. I took nutrition when I needed it, kept cool and hydrated. The course was bleak, long and empty at points. But I wasn’t here to enjoy the views. I was attacking for the 2:59 I’d trained so hard for. I knew it was within me, it was whether I could hold it together after a tough day at the office.
I wasn’t here to worry about what was going to happen 30km down the road, control the now. Stay smooth, don’t run hard, just manage the job. Some great cheers from family and friends lifted my spirits. I don’t flinch when I’m racing, don’t smile, don’t engage. I just roll back into my head and concentrate on the job.
The lights are on, but nobody is home. Though for the first 20km, I hear everything. Mum & Dad just outside transition willing me on, Mitch & the family, Jan, all screaming for me to run faster. Hannah & Gill going crazy on the corner after transition, Robin, Steph, Jonna & the chaps going mad from the benches in the middle of huge crowds. People at home would be tracking, Laura would be posting to instagram, I’d no doubt be getting heckled in the group chats. All these people, fueling the legs. Giving me the energy I needed, after all, I needed all the help I could get!
Through half way in 1:29:30, still where I needed to be. As the body deteriorated I was in control, I might be able to make this one?!
At 30km I’d began to hurt. I knew I’d be out of the race, I’d lost too much on the bike. But I was still fighting. And I could be on for a run pb too?! My frazzled brain trying to do maths, I knew all I needed to do was keep the legs ticking over.
By km 32 it was all a bit too much. All I had was 10km left to run. I could visualize my 10km route at home, the number of times I’d run it this year. I knew I was capable, but the speed just wasn’t there. My throbbing hip was telling me to stop, my legs had had enough, but it wasn’t over.
I managed to limit the damage of the last 10km to around 4 minutes, not ideal, but still a successful end to a long day at the office, and a successful season.
In The End:
There are lots of could haves, and would haves surrounding the race. There’s no doubt that I’d have been right up in the mix with some of the pros, and probably off the front of the age group field. But I wasn’t. I didn’t do that.
Though, what I did do, was fight. I battled, and I won.
I went through the ringer, and at no point was quitting an option. I showed the character that I knew is in there. And despite one of the roughest days of racing I’ve experienced, I never let it become an excuse, and I never let it stop me.
I told myself I was going to PB in all 3 disciplines, and to be 5 minutes off that on the bike is nothing shy of incredible.
I swam a PB.
I ran a PB.
I set an Ironman PB.
It capped off a great season, but it hasn’t scratched the surface of where I want to be. I’ve enjoyed a good thorough break, and I’m already hungry to see what I can achieve next year.
Work hard through winter, keep off the injuries. And next year, we’ll go again.
Until next time!