Let me first open with a little bit of background on the setting for this weekend’s Ironman 70.3 Majorca. If you were to pick the perfect place to hold a triathlon you’d pick Majorca. The weather is great and with a sunny day, temperatures in the mid 20s, Saturday the 10th of May was no different.
The 1900m swim heads out from the white sands of Alcudia beach and with shallow crystal clear waters you can watch the fishies as you swim, or keep your eyes shut if that kind of thing makes you squirm. Once out of the water there’s a short run up to transition and boy is it a transition. Close on 800m which isn’t surprising given there were 3500 athletes taking part, the largest Half Ironman in the world apparently.
I’d previously heard about Majorca because of the cycling training camps and the roads didn’t disappoint. The early part of the 90km route takes in a fast and flat coastal road on the Mediterranean. The route turns left and the long 700m climb from sea level begins, gradually at first. The business part of the climb is a 30 min small chain ring section that rises through a dramatic tree covered craggy mountainside.
To top all of that off the run is a 3 lap affair around the well supported streets and sea front area of Alcudia finishing on the beach to the dulcet tones of Paul Kaye, the voice of Ironman (outside of the US anyway for those of you who know Mike Reilly).
So to the bit of the race report which can be a bit samey given it’s once again a swim, a bike and a run at the end. If I start by explaining that I did my first triathlon in 2003, a Thames Turbo sprint triathlon no less. That 27 year old had youth and motivation in abundance but the last 11 years has been a journey of discovery and I’m still learning. I won’t hide the fact that I’m looking to qualify for Kona at Ironman UK in July and it won’t be the first time I’ve tried. Having enjoyed a stellar 2011 with a 3rd place (M35-39) in Ironman Anwerp 70.3 and lopped 40 mins of my iron distance PB in Challenge Copenhagen with a 9hrs21, I was struggling to find new ways to go faster. I’m sure this is a familiar story to triathletes everywhere. There just comes a point where improvement is hard to find. So this year I’m looking for just 1%. Why 1%? Because I’ve previously missed out on Hawaii by 16s (Half Ironman UK 2004), 3 mins in Ironman Arizona in 2007 and 5 mins in my first Ironman at Lake Placid in 2003. I was close to the elusive qualification slot but close doesn’t get you feeling the sand between your toes on dig me beach.
So Project1% is an attempt to find small improvements across the board. Sound familiar? Let’s call it marginal gains then, a more familiar description used by British Cycling to account for it’s world beating success.
To the race and my pre-race predictions were based on analysis of last years results. I reckoned a 27 min swim, 2hrs32 bike and 1hr 21 run (with 7 mins in transition) for 4.27 would be a dream race with a second lofty goal of breaking 4hrs30mins. I knew this would get me close to a top 10. With such a high quality, large field I wasn’t expecting to match my podium from Antwerp in 2011.
So to the start line of Ironman Majorca 70.3 2014 and having done a little swim warmup in the brand new Huub wetsuit I found myself at the back of the largest age group wave of them all, 520 males in the 35-39 age group. A bit of polite, look tall and fast squeezing and myself almost on the start line. I say almost because there was a massive inflatable start gantry post blocking my path and quite a number of very determined fit looking triathletes to my right who weren’t going to let me get into any better a position. So the gun went and 500 athletes sprint down the beach and hit the water in a melee of arms and legs. Being 6ft 7 helped as I was able to stride out a little further than most before flopping into the water swan like so as to not get a body full of sea water into my wetsuit, as per my failed test start the day before. Swim was busy but found clear water and was foot tapped all the way round to a 27m30s swim split. Annoyingly 30s slower than the relatively steady test swim I’d done on the course on Thursday. I’ll put it down to the chaos of swimming through the waves in front but clearly there’s work to do and the time out due to the fractured wrist in January has showed.
Through that long transition and out onto the bike. A fairly pedestrian start due to the sheer volume of people on the twisty town section with roundabouts and turns a plenty and we were released onto the flat and fast coast road. I spent most of the next hour shouting “on yer left” and go so bored of saying it that I started doing it with an Irish accent, then in German, then I took to making choo choo noises which on reflection is probably not funny as I steamed through the waves in front at 40kph, holding what seemed a very comfortable 290-300 watts.
We hit the big climb and I focussed on wattage. I didn’t let the numbers creep above 315 and having not been overtaken to this point started getting passed by a few people who looked lighter and more goat like than I (sorry Tamsin). Then I unshipped the chain and lost a bit of time getting off and putting it back on. No race is perfect and little things like this are made to test our nerve. The climb doesn’t really properly top out and a few ups and downs were enjoyed before we hit the descent proper. This ones a goodie with hairpin bends, high speed sections and dramatic drops if you get things wrong. I’m heavy and fairly fearless so passed hundreds of people on the way down, mostly from the previous waves I would add. I was trying to hold an average wattage of 290 for the whole ride but I hadn’t really factored in how much of an effect the descent would have on that and the numbers tumbled from 292 at the top of the climb to 270 by the bottom. The rest of the ride was spent with a rather nice tail wind pushing 40kph plus and 290-300 watts. I felt great. So great that I had to remember to back off a little bit as legs are also needed for good running.
Speaking of which T2 arrived a little too quickly, it might have been because I nearly got felled by an over excited group of dogs who ran out in the road about 25m up ahead. Thankfully giving me time to avoid them but in all the excitement I forgot to get my feet out of the cycling shoes. So I dismounted and ran the short 30m or so with the shoes on to my racking point. I was lucky it wasn’t 750m down the other end I guess. Cycling time was 2hrs 27mins15s for an average speed of 36.72kph. With over 1000m of climbing I’m pretty proud of that.
A brief stop in the change tent to put the running gear on and I was off. First mile in 6 mins and feeling good. Having run 1.19 in Antwerp off the bike I had high hopes for something similar. I had in my head a 1.21 might be possible as I’m not quite there yet with the running having been dogged by a grumbly lower ab strain for weeks now. I quickly realised that the heat was going to be the major factor of the day. It was between 26-28 degrees. I haven’t quite got an accurate answer from anyone on this but all I know is that at 85kg and being from Accrington, I don’t like heat. The aid stations in my opinion were slightly too far apart and we could have done with one more. The 3 lap run was a case of heat management between aid stations and although I was running at around 6ms15s per mile I was losing time on each aid station stuffing water, coke and sponges onto my person. It seemed to work though and I didn’t slow much as the run progressed. I was passed by a faster moving athlete called Ian and latched onto him. I decided I’d squint and try and shut off the world and just focus on his outline. I think my breathing pissed him off and the fact that I stuck behind him for 30 mins without saying hi or doing a turn. In the end he turned round and asked if I was going to do a turn. I apologised and explained it was all I could do to hang on. Once we established we were in different age groups we agreed he’d continue doing the pulling which was very kind. I had my slight bad patch around 5-6 miles in and experience told me to just keeping ticking over as it could (note could) pass. It did, and I was fairly metronmic with the pacing tapping out between 6.20s and 6.30s per mile. At mile 11 I was feeling strong enough to start pulling Ian and increased the pace slightly only to realise I’d dropped him (ooops). I ran into the finish shoot alone and full of emotion. I had no idea of the overall time and no idea of where I was in the field but I knew I’d put in a solid performance. Run time was 1.23.30 for an overall time of 4hrs25mins01s.
A float in the sea was one of the highlights of the week and an ideal way to help the legs recover. Onwards for a massage and a sit down in the athlete area and I met up with Paul Lunn and Matt Malloy (Team Freespeed – 4th in M40-44). Paul and I had no idea how we’d done and Matt started reading down the results quite quickly spotting Paul who’d won his age group (40-44) and finished 3rd amateur in an amazing 4.18. Then my name popped up surprisingly early and to everyone’s surprise I also made the podium with 3rd. I couldn’t believe it. Moments like this make every 5.30am wake up call worthwhile. I was over the moon.
Without sounding too cheesy I’d go as far as to say that this is my best ever performance as an athlete. I was 16th amateur and 41st overall (including 40 pros) out of a field of 3500. I went to the awards ceremony and proudly stood on that podium and also accepted my slot to the 70.3 World Champs in Mont-Tremblant (September 7th).
The race has given me bags of motivation cookies, an immense amount of satisfaction and a whole heap of confidence that I’m good enough to claim a Kona slot in Bolton on 20th July. We’ll see. This race was supposed to be a training race and the next block of training is where I’m hoping to step up another level. Exciting stuff and quite surprising given the number of years I’ve been knocking about the UK tri scene that such improvements are possible. I’ll write up at the end of the year a report on the magical key factors to all this late success. Needless to say less is more for the working family man ;o)
As ever a huge thank you for the support from my triathlon club Thames Turbo where I’m proud to be both the men’s captain and iRide Thames Turbo race team member. Key sponsors to individually thank include Powerbar, iRide, Compress Sport, Huub and Hampton Pool.