ROTH 2015 – RACE REPORT
I started working on this not long after my race at Roth, got distracted so never finished it, then Pete Coombe came out with his great IM Japan report and I've been oscillating between inspiration to finish mine and intimidation that he writes so much better than me. Deciding that fear is never a good basis upon which to act (or not to) here goes.
By the way, having re-read this it’s clear I need an editor, it’s too looooong. Sorry.
Testing the idea thats its better to be underdone than over cooked.
Plan A. My plan A could be best described as Rocky 1. The little known bum gets a shot at the big time, devotes himself to training, there's lots of inspirational music providing a sound track to a steady transformation of the doughy part timer into a chiseled demigod. The plan was to come off marathon training hard build a solid base ready for a 10 week period 'going pro' (on long service leave).
A few things happened - getting to training from our new house was much harder than I'd foreseen, work was much busier than planned so 10 weeks prep as a 'pro' became 3, and finally I came off my bike breaking my wrist about 12 weeks before the event. So plan A got binned and plan B got drafted.
Plan B. This is more Rocky II. Here the hero (that would be me) has a few set backs to the start of his training but overcomes them and battles through with a massive effort in the end and goes on to beat up the champ and dance joyously around the ring.
That resurgence never happened. Why? Lots of reasons, and at this point the script looks less like a Rocky story with a hero dragging himself to victory and more like a Woody Allen movie with the protagonist paralysed by self-doubt and a loss of direction. Anyway, Plan B gets dumped and Plan C is drafted.
Plan C. I'm reduced to the lead in "Run fat boy, run." It’s no longer about triumphant results and crossing the line to the sound of swelling orchestral music. It’s now managing my effort and body to get through the event staggering across an empty finishing line with just your faithful wife waiting. In short I've gone from competer back to completer.
THE RACE PLAN
Thankfully I had been through an ironman before and so I knew what I was in for - or so I thought. I didn’t plan in terms of times, purely on effort. The idea was ease through the swim backing off if I felt even the slightest stress; ride the bike smack in the middle of my training heart rate range say 135-145 bpm, run as far as I can ignoring pace and just keep moving.
Ok, now I said I didn’t consider time but I was (like every triathlete that says they don’t have a time target) lying. Of course I had some times in mind, I just wasn’t going too drive myself to meet them in the race. Last time at Busso 2013 I did a 12:05 Clearly that wasn’t on the cards this time but I figured I was looking 1:15-1:20 for the swim, 6:00-6:30 for the bike and 5:00 to 5:30 for the run plus 10 minutes odd in transition. So ballpark, if the day is going great I could be as quick as 12:25, if the day is going badly I was mentally ready for a long 13:30 day.
Roth is interesting in that cut off to count as a finisher is 15 not 17 hours but that wasnt going to be an issue for me was it. Lets come back to that later shall we.
Roth is a series of waves, not a mass start, these days. The waves seem to be a combination of projected swim and overall time. I was in a kind of middle of the pack wave and that felt about right. The Roth swim course is ideal for someone like me - ie someone who cant swim in a straight line to save their life (fingers crossed I never test that particular statement). The swim is done in a shipping channel thats closed just for this event. The channel is long, narrow and basically straight so my 3.8 km swim was only 4 km according to Garmin - the most 'efficient' open water swim I've done in my life. Not much else to report really, treated it as a long training swim, got out feeling fresh and ready to ride in 1:20.
What to say? Routine change over really. A fraction slower than ideal but no biggie, the delay was mostly caused by a number of helpers being needed by the guy next to me who had some asthma issues on the swim. Added perhaps 30 seconds to the entire transitition, dont care.
The Good. As the weather was looking like being pretty warm and sunburn had been an issue for me at Busso I took a last minute decision to change into a 'normal' bike jersey. This worked. The jersey is comfortable (it’s what I wear for every training ride after all), got better pockets than a tri top and it’s got sleeves. Will do this again for long races.
Saw Libby coming out of T1 and was stoked and the good vibes stayed for the next hour and a bit.
My heart rate was sitting dead in the middle of my target range, my legs felt strong, the road was better than anything I've ever ridden on and I was really comfortable in aero. On top of that I'm cruising along at between 30-32 kph. I am looking at going sub 6 hours, God is in his heaven and all is well in the world.
The Bad (note this will be longer). Then I had to climb. At about 40 km into the bike course you go through the town of Greding - a lovely little village that I'm sure is full of wonderful people. Unfortunately, for me it will always be remembered as the place I wanted to die.
The climb out of Greding is nothing unusual, it’s not hellish and it shouldn’t be a problem for any properly prepared athlete. This is where I found out I was not a properly prepared athlete. During the 'steep' bit of the climb (about 5ish % for about 1km) my heart rate spiked to 170 and my legs felt like they were bleeding power. Perhaps I could have recovered except the climb doesn’t actually stop, it levels out to a constant 2ish% percent for another 5 or so km. Big deal, it’s a basically just a false flat isn’t it? Normally, but on this day, my lack of condition meant that while my heart rate stabilised, it didn’t normalise. The net effect was that only just an hour on the course I spent the next 30 minutes at threshold and was cooked.
After this the remainder of the ride became a battle for survival. I could get into a groove on the flat/rolling terrain, being a bigger bloke the growing cross winds/head winds that some complained of were less less of an issue but whenever a climb got longer than 100 meters, especially if I needed to stand for any reason, I was screwed. Whenever the road went up I had nothing, if I had to stand I'd cramp immediately.
The Ugly. At its worst I was forced to get off the bike and walk out cramps and/or avoid just falling over because I couldn’t push the pedals. The crisis came at about the 120km mark. I was sitting on the side of the road on a slight up hill, head between my knees, throwing up and abductors cramped solid. A couple of mum and dads walked down from the aid station came down to offer help and the sag wagon stopped for a "chat". Then I got passed by the girl in the hand cycle.
That was a bit of a decision point for me - if this were a movie, the sound track would have been real low, only mournful strings and there would have been a long lingering shot of my 1000 yard stare. What should I do? Without getting all melodramatic I note a bloke died at IM Frankfurt just a week earlier. At this point I did an inventory of my body. Nothing was torn, pulled or strained. I was sweating (like a pig) and needed a piss so my hydration system was working. I wasn’t getting dizzy or trembling, vision was fine. In short I was fat, unfit and out of energy but I wasn’t broken. This was going to be really, really hard but it wasn’t going to kill me.
Cue the rising music, the swelling sound track and super slo mo of Rocky grabbing the ropes and dragging himself to his feet. I mounted up and pushed off - slowly, soundtrack was still probably only a little woodwind, perhaps piano - no brass or horns for me yet. I had a few more stops, at one point I had to bend over quickly without dismounting caught my number belt on the bidons behind me and tore that off (remember that plot twist for later) but I got to T2.
Upshot. 7 and a half hours on the bike - my average speed, when moving, was ok - there was just a lot of times when I wasn’t moving or moving a walking pace (funnily enough because I was - in fact - walking). That number had become a huge flashing light in my head over the last few km. 7 and a half, plus about 1 and a half for the swim and T1 and I'd burnt up 9 hours.
I wanted to throw the bike at the catchers but was prevented by my total inability to muster the energy. Also, even then I was aware my problems were of my making not the bike's. Still, I was done with that stinking (literally) thing. Never have I been happier to sit down in a proper chair.
As soon as my arse hit the seat the reality of the maths dawned on me. I'd used up near as dammit 9 hours, I had 6 to go. Do the maths - 360 minutes to do 42 km, need to average 8.5 min per km or thereabouts. That’s going to be a theme - do the maths!
Systems status. Legs? Gone.
Ability to refuel? Limited.
Thinking? Unhelpfully clear headed about situation.
Basically I couldn’t run but I was painfully aware that I didn’t have time to walk.
Kona videos came to the rescue here. I pictured all those heroes those shows give us and figured someone else might drag me off the course, someone else might not record me as a finisher, but I won’t quit. I won’t wear that.
So wind up the music, get ready for the tear jerking start to the run as the fightback starts and STOP THE TAPE! POW! a freezing cold wet sponge smacks into my head. BANG, CRACK, KAPOWIE - if this had been a cartoon the screen would have been full of words. Apparently the kids in T2 had decided it was boring to hand over cold sponges and elected to hurl them at the athletes instead. At first it was shocking, then kind of fun.
Then became really boring. The officials weren’t going to let me out on the run course without my number belt - remember it was out of the bike course somewhere. The two tattoo decals and timing chip wasn’t sufficient to prove who I was. So what do I do? 7 minutes later a senior official came over and explained that without a number belt I wasn’t going to get any photos on the run course. Frankly that was the least of my problems - I suspect the words " I don’t give a fuck - I can’t stay here!" may have come out my mouth. He said something in German and shrugged, I headed out of transition and the "run" started.
"Its not a challenge unless you are likely to fail. " Aaron Keefe (or words to that effect)
Yay, saw Libby again which made me feel great. I suspect she has no idea how happy that made me because I'm almost certain I was in a sulk about how the day was going and was right on the edge of throwing my toys out of the cot. I wasn’t going to make the cut-off, I couldn’t walk 8 and a half minute kms for an entire marathon. But sheer stubborness shouldn’t be underestimated and I trudged on.
And the mental game really kicked off. You know that feeling when you can’t quite remember something and you try not to think about it too hard but also keep just aware enough that you might catch the name or number or last item on the shopping list just in case it flits through your mind? Well that was me and the maths problem. For the next 20km I was obsessively doing the numbers but trying not to think about the implications of the numbers. A km down in 8:20, 10 seconds up. 7 km down, 1 minute ahead, plenty of time for the remaining 35 km - "WTF, WE ARE DOING THIS FOR ANOTHER 35 KM? THATS OVER 5 FREAKING HOURS OF THIS SHIT!" No, no its just a few km, not long now, just keep going. Excellent, nearly half way and I've still got 3 hrs til cut off - "HOLD THE BUS SUNSHINE, WE'VE GOT THREE MORE HOURS OF THIS CRAP?!?!?" No, dont be silly, it'll be over soon.
And so it went for 21 or so km, my brain at war with itself, desperately needing more time but terrified of the sheer amount of time I had to sustain the effort.
After half way things got bad. My feet were so sore it was unbelievable. I could tell a couple of toes were bleeding (the bloodstains on the shoes are kind of a giveaway). And I was drifting out of juice. It wasnt a sudden cramp or anything, just a slow ebbing of pace as I would lose focus and slow for a bit. 2 minutes up my sleeve went, then I was 1 minute down, 3 minutes down, 10 minutes down. By around the 30 km mark I was 15 minutes behind schedule and like someone dealing with a death I wasn’t ready to accept it so I started bargaining. "I wonder if they won’t look at the time when I cross the line, perhaps I'll get a finishers medal anyway...." that sort of thing was happening in my head.
Then my guardian angel - or perhaps my jiminy cricket - turned up, my mate Mark. He started a couple of waves after me so had time up his sleeve. We'd been passing each other for a few hours as he ran/walked and I was powerwalking but my times in front were getting shorter and shorter and pretty soon Mark was going to leave me. But he didn’t, instead Mark stayed with me, urged me to run a bit, rest, then run a bit more.
I should say I had been trying to run earlier but my legs had held a stop work meeting and decided I'd burnt up all their goodwill and they were working strictly according to the letter of their contract and that contract was walking. Occasionally management sent a message down to the workers asking for a bit of running, you know, for the good of the company and all. Usually this just resulted in snap strikes - often mid stride - leading to new problems (like picking myself up off the ground). I don’t know if it was the distraction of having Mark there to chat to or that as I'd drifted off pace I'd actually recovered a bit but slowly the worker bees began to cooperate and 30 seconds of running became 45 seconds, became a couple of minutes.
And the maths got better. Under 10km to go - YAY! Only a bit over an hour more of this - great! Off the track along the canal, through the little industrial section, into the park, little milestones behind us then suddenly, without really being sure at about the 37 km mark I did the numbers really carefully. 5 km to go, ball park 55 minutes - HOLY SHIT Batman - we're going to do this.
A funny, sad, triumphant, deflating and really odd time followed as Mark and I navigated through most deserted streets of Roth. Passing masses of empty tables were earlier thousands of people would have been cheering. Asking a couple of bystanders for directions at one point. But then, music, flashes of light. The stadium is coming.
Cue the brass, lets the horns loose - turn the soundtrack up to 11.
The finish at Roth is everything you can imagine. A packed stadium, thousands of people screaming, huge euro pop sound track. Libby was there with a flag, I wanted to stop with her but I couldn’t bring myself to. 14 hours of moving, moving, moving. I knew I'd made it but was afraid I was wrong, I kept going. Mark was the reason I'd made it and I wanted to cross with him. Seeing the photo's later, I made possibly the campiest finish in the history of iron distance triathlon but I don’t care. I was there.
Heard the term "humble brag"? It’s when people deliberately put themselves down to situate others to build them up. It comes about because we aren’t supposed to express our own satisfaction with ourselves. In Australia we say we shouldn’t "big note" ourselves.
Well screw that! I am proud of what I did. I had a terrible race, I failed completely and utterly in managing my own training and my day should never have been that way. But it was terrible and I did not fail on the day. To paraphrase one of my beloved cheezy Kona quotes if I'd quit no one would have cared, my friends would have been great, supporting me, building me up, making it alright. But I would have known. I didn’t have to finish, I could have pulled out, there was nothing making me finish but me, and I did it. I am really proud of my worst race (hopefully) ever.
I have unfinished business with Roth. This report is full of desperate struggles which is really unfair to the race. I haven’t spoken about how beautiful the swim start was as the sun rose above the mist. I've completely ignored the brilliance of the bike course, the fantastic descents with long fast sections joined by tight, technical and really fun hairpins or the bits of the course running across gorgeous ridges and let’s never forget the famous Solar Berg climb. The run loop isn't exciting but it really should be a fast paced journey down this lovely soft gravelly sort of surface culminating in a charge through cheering crowds. I want that race too. So I will be back and next time I'll do it properly.
I have to thank lots of people - starting with Libby. No triathlete can do anything without super supportive and understanding partners. We need time to train, money to buy toys/race entries/food etc. And we need someone to whine to when it hurts and to give us sympathy I suspect they don’t really feel. Libby has done all of this and more - thank you.
All my training, travelling and racing buddies. Too many to name, but a special thanks to Mark for his help on the day.
Finally a person I've been reluctant to mention. My day was the result of poor preparation and I would hate anyone to link my situation with my coach. My problems were my problems and all started when I went off program and under the radar training by myself. Why did I do that - a whole host of issues that were mine. That I finished at all says more than I can ever articulate about the depth of fitness I had from working with Sean before I dropped off. Best of all, since coming back Sean has been great and I’m really excited about getting back into it.
1. Some time away from ironman. I will do another IM (I'm entered IM Austria in June 2016) but I need a break right now.
2. Sprints. As Ricky Bobby would say 'I just wanna go fast'. Season 15/16 is all about the short stuff.
3. I can’t train by myself. A man's got to know his limitations - a common phrase with me unfortunately. I can’t train myself. I don’t push the intensity hard enough. I cut the work short. I'm too quick to bail training sessions when it gets hard. I’m fine race day, I can dial that in myself but I need help to train. Commit to the program. Luckily I've got a great pair of coaches with Sean and Steve (now I'm doing sprints it more Steve) and a huge group of training partners that unwittingly shame me to work.
THE END - its over, I promise.