When I signed up for Ironman Frankfurt last year in July I didn’t even know if I would be allowed to travel aboard. This is due to the restrictions imposed on me by the UK probation service. To be fair they have been very supportive since my release but this was a big step and I took the gamble and paid the entry fee. I desperately wanted to race the best athletes in the world and outside of Kona this is the race.
Training started back in January and my coach, Keith Sanders looked at how we could tweak and maybe change a few things from the last cycle of training to step me up another level. We knew my Ironman running was strong so it was about having better running consistency in training and improving my bike handling skills. This was an issue at Ironman UK and I honestly think it cost me a podium in my age group. This is the price you pay for riding your first proper bike at 30 years of age. I needed more time out on the road and more weight training to prevent any injures reoccurring again. My physiotherapist, Alex de Monstiers, set about putting a new strength and conditioning program in place to prevent these aches and pains rearing their ugly head again and with application and dedication we avoided any major issues.
Training went amazingly well. I could feel the massive step up from the previous years and my confidence was high. I entered a lot of smaller races for experience, as my lack of racing multi sport was a weakness I wanted to focus on. It was a constant process of identifying areas for attention and then work hard to address them. We treated these races as just training days and they were always during big blocks with no taper. This was particularly hard for me not to race them as I am mega competitive but I had to set my ego aside and think of the bigger picture. Again this was another big change and improvement in my overall mentality. The old me would have thrown caution to the wind and gone for it.
The first big test was in April where I ran the Manchester marathon. This was after a 100 mile ride the day before and using a capped pace. This was to ensure we didn’t compromise the quality of the training afterwards and I finished with a promising 2h.52m. It felt very comfortable and gave me a huge mental boost and confidence that my running was well on track. A sub 3 hours marathon was the target for Frankfurt and this was a great indicator of the improvements I had made this year.
Training steadily moved along and then I went away for two weeks in the French Alps to put down some solid work into the bike. Again there was a significant jump in my cycling and handling skills which gave me another injection of confidence. Despite the load I felt fantastic which was a very different experience to previous years. I had followed the program, increased my strengths and improved my weaknesses. There was no stone unturned in the last 9 months in the search for better performance.
So to the race…..
I drove out to Germany on the Thursday with Hywel Davies so we can could settle into our hotel and get all the pre race faff out the way and then relax. It was strange racing an Ironman abroad for the first time but I loved the enthusiasm of the Germans. They create a very special atmosphere and you can see why this race is one of the best in the calendar.
On race day we woke up at 4.30am to get the necessary calories in the system in preparation for the swim. We only had 20 minutes to travel, which is pretty convenient and I felt no nerves or apprehension. This was nothing unusual – I was in the zone and couldn’t wait to put all the training into the race.
The swim start was rolling so I put myself with the hour group as I’ve worked on my swimming a lot over the winter. My plan was to hold feet and get a tow and then maybe fall back and pick up other feet to follow as I go around. The swim was as uneventful as usual so I just found a good rhythm and sat in a small pack of 2 or 3 guys. As I exited the water I looked down and saw 1h.03m which felt very comfortable and my heart rate and breath were under control. So far so good.
So onto the bike and the next part of the plan. I was going to hold 250 watts for the first 75% of the ride and lift it up to 260 for the final quarter. I had been warned about what was to come by friends who had raced in Europe but I really didn’t appreciate how bad and pre meditated it would be. The subject of “drafting” is a hot one in Ironman and I cannot articulate how shockingly bad it was but I had to race my race. All I could do was sit up and stop pedaling every time a peloton of 10 or 20 guys came tearing past, wheel to wheel because I did not want to get disqualified. I just waited for the marshals to come past and then the cheats would fan out in line and ride at their actual ability. Then I would be back on the power to leave them in my wake with the knowledge that time had been lost.
After about 100k the road did clear up in front of me and I only saw the odd the group drafting so I could concentrate on my rhythm and get back on track.
Unfortunately I had other stuff to worry about as I had dropped half my bike nutrition when I hit a small pot hole in the road – I had tucked my solid food into my tri suit and it exploded everywhere. In hindsight I should have stopped but in the heat of the moment I calculated I had just enough gels taped to my bike to make it to the 180k. I also made the call to ease back and not push the bike as I knew I was easily on for a sub 5 hour bike and wanted to run fast. So there was no point taking risks to try and gain 10 min on the bike if I then went and blew up on the run due to calorie deficit. These are the decisions that have to be made during an Ironman and you just have to trust you’ve made the right call. And I knew this was all part of the learning experience.
Total bike time 4h.52m
Now to the sharp end of the race and my favourite discipline – the run.
One of Ironmans many foibles is that the age groupers don’t really know where they are in the field and have to just race on instinct and sometimes dodgy info from spectators. I wanted a podium place and had said from day one if the opportunity was there I would go for it on the run leg. I went out a little too hard at the start running 3.45 ks but then found a nice metronomic rhythm and picked up two pro French guys. They were running 4.14 ks which was a 2h.59m marathon – happy days. The only discomfort I felt wasn’t from the physical aspect of running running but my digestive system. I had to stop at 23k to go to the toilet – something I said I would never do – but I couldn’t bring myself to shit whilst running in downtown Frankfurt!
The one minute I spent in the toilet took me ten to catch up on the French Pro, Vincent, but unfortunately once I caught him I just couldn’t lift the pace back up to 4.15 ks. It was annoying and unusual as the run felt comfortable. The kilometers ticked by and the atmosphere was amazing near the finish line where I had all my friends cheering me on. It was such an incredible experience.
I crossed the finish line and looked up to the finish board and saw 9h.10m. A good time but I had no idea where I was in the field. My instant thought was that I could easily have found 10 minutes extra and gone sub 9 but the most important thing was where had I come?
14th and if I’m being totally honesty my first reaction was that it was pretty poor.
On reflection it’s a huge step forward in my progress as an Ironman athlete and this is only my 3rd full distance one with proper training. I know within myself that I have lots to improve on and the process of building as athlete is a long and complicated one – but I also know what I’m capable of and through learning and experience the sky is the limit.
Thanks to everyone who came out to support me on the day and the kind words on social media – it really does mean a lot to me.
Also I would like to thank Chris of Think Inc for making this blog look half decent with no budget and limited functionality. Watch out for the new website which is coming soon!
Finally a big shout to Craft sportswear and Wyndymilla bikes – you guys are such a huge part of my continued progress as an athlete.