Lanzarote Ironman 70.3 2015 - Notes to Self

I'm new to triathlon.  I tackled my first middle distance event in July followed by two sprints and after each I've written a debrief.  

These thoughts are many for myself, but I've put them on my blog in case others find them useful too.

Lanzarote was my first 'Ironman' branded event.  Partly I wanted to discover whether I liked their approach, and on the whole I do.  
I've heard it derided as simply a money making business, and compared to many other middle distance events, it is a lot more expensive.  However, there was something about the razzmatazz that appealed.  More.
The Lanzarote 'half ironman', as the Ironman 70.3 is also known, is based at the sports resort of Club la Santa which we visited and thoroughly enjoyed in December 2014.  

Liz and I wanted to return for some heat - it has been a dreadful summer in Scotland - and to improve our swimming, so we booked places on an Open Water Swim Camp run by Dan Bullock of SwimForTri.  I will aim to write about that in due course as it was excellent.

Liz was nervous that it would be full of ultra-competitive triathletes but the whole thing was very relaxed and we made some great friends.  

Coincidentally, the Ironman 70.3 was happening two days after the camp ended, so we stayed on for me to compete.  We booked this back in June and so this event became the focus of my season.   OK, background over.  The event.

I had a good swim.  36 minutes is almost ten minutes faster than I managed in July.  

I had been helped by some free advice from Tim Egge in Australia, who I emailed after enjoying his podcasts.  He'd recommended some speed sets which cut my time in the pool.  

Liz and I had also been swimming regularly in our local Loch Sunart and I much preferred the open water, so unlike many new triathletes, it held no fear for me.  

But most of my improvement had come on the SwimForTri camp which preceded the event.  The almost daily video analysis; the drills; the coaching - it was all first rate.

We'd taken a day-trip to the full Ironman swim course at Puerto del Carmen where Dan's assistant instructor Ralph gave me one of those rare, special lightbulb moments.  

"Slow the stroke down, and don't pull the catch until the bubbles have stopped" he said, then had us swimming around the bay.  Cutting my cadence right back, waiting until I felt the water made a huge difference when combined with everything else Dan had taught (rotation, catch position, leg kick, hiding from the water).  I could swim and swim and not be out of breath.

That said, I went out deliberately fast.  Having held back on my first tri and exited the water last, I knew that this time I had to start near the front and be relatively aggressive with my stroke to keep up.  It was crowded at first but no one swam over me and no elbows went in my face.  (Course on Strava)

As people tired, I dropped into my 'Ralph stroke', breathing bilaterally, sighting regularly and felt I was cruising.  I genuinely felt I could have gone around again and that was a huge surprise.  When I later learnt I'd done a 36 minute swim I was pleased, but then wished I had gone a bit faster - but speed will come.

So to T1.  Previously, I'd done transitions with my kit set out on the ground beside my bike.
Here the 550 competitors are packed so tightly you'd trip over kit.  So they use a three bag system

Bike kit goes in a numbered blue bag which is hung on a numbered stand at the entrance to T1 and collected as you leave the water.  

You must change in the tent - I was pulled up by a referee and wasted time trying to squeeze into the tent.

Wetsuit, goggles and swim hat go in the now empty blue bag and dropped as you head out to the bike.  

After the bike is racked, you collect the numbered red bag from its place on a numbered stand, into running kit in the tent, and leave the bike stuff in the red bag as you start the run.

I over complicated this process. I put a bottle of sunscreen into each bag and spent time faffing, wasting a whopping seven minutes in T1.

"Were you making sandwiches in there?", someone asked afterwards.

I should have had faith in the really good waterproof sunscreen I wore for the swim and perhaps added a little for the bike.

I also have to practice mounting the bike with shoes already in the pedals.

I was well prepared for the bike route, having ridden it six days earlier with a very fast chap in my age group.  (Course on Strava)

Having been in Lanzarote for over a week really helped my acclimatisation and, crucially, my heart rate to settle. Initially, my HR seemed considerably higher than my rate of perceived exhaustion would suggest.  It took 4 or 5 days to settle.  

Liz and I had both added electrolyte tablets to our water bottles during the swim camp, and I used SiS  Go-Electrolyte in training and on the event.  

I started with two black bottles and carried two spare sachets of powder, aiming to drink four bottles on the ride.  

What I hadn't appreciated was that brand new bottles, containing either water or energy drink, would be handed out at the bike aid stations.  

In retrospect it would have been easier and faster to start with one bottle and four electrolyte tablets, adding these to bottles of energy drink collected from each of the four aid stations.

The final learning point from the bike is my need to get a good TT position.

I'm not sure how I'll do this, but looking at the photos I feel I'm too high.  I developed a pain on the left side of my lower back, probably due to a lack of core strength, because I could stretch it out on the hills.

I'd love one of those whizzy TT bikes but the gains have to come from within me - such toys are nice but are only 'extras'.  An aero helmet could help though.  Perhaps a TT saddle?  Lighter, better aero bars?  Oh where do you stop..!

So into T2, rack the bike (helpers instruct you where to place it, not in the numbered position where it started) grab the Red run bag and into the damn changing tent.  This tent is full of sun loungers which, if you sit on the wrong bit, tip up.  Chairs would be better.  Decent sunscreen was set out for us to use.

Then out onto a less than inspiring run course, but 'lap' courses seem to be a feature of Ironman events.  Perhaps it's because they can more easily set up lots of aid stations? There were three on this course, each of which I passed twice on each lap.

Three laps of the road leading down through the local village of La Santa to a turn-around point down a dusty volcanic track.  A timing mat records progress at the turn-around, and coloured arm bands given out back in the stadium at Club la Santa indicate which lap you're on.  (Course on Strava)

Initially this is slightly depressing.  I headed out on my first lap with screaming legs, only to see younger, fitter runners with three arm bands on their way back to finish.  Be assured that when it's your turn to have three arm bands and be heading back it feels very, very good.

In my first middle distance event, both legs cramped at the knees and hamstrings shortly after starting the run.

At the start of our swim camp, Dan Bullock mentioned that those prone to cramping (he was thinking more about swimming, but hey...) might try liquid magnesium supplements from PowerBar. I took one of these a day in the run up to the event and I didn't cramp.  I don't know whether that's a recommended dose, so I will investigate this further.

I had also had a massage from Lucy at Athletes Prepare By, based in La Santa village.  I have an old kayaking shoulder injury which ached from all the swimming.

Lucy and her husband Trevor are both triathletes, and they were outside one of the local bars watching the run.  And in Lucy's case, waving her cheerleader pom-poms.

In the two sprint triathlons I tackled across the summer, especially the Loch Lomond, my stamina felt bad at the start of the run and I blamed over-eating on the bike.

Middle distance requires more fuel, but nevertheless I stuck to my plan of taking most calories from the Go-Electrolyte and adding just one gel an hour, determined not to have too much sugar gnawing into my system.

I had carefully topped up my glycogen and protein in the two days up to the event, avoiding the pasta party on the night before and eating a much earlier main meal so it would clear my system by morning.

Breakfast had been simply a tiny amount of oats soaked in milk, yogurt, apple sauce and a Mule bar.

I have yet to manage a sub-two hour half marathon, so I was pleasantly surprised to complete that distance in 2:09.  Yes it's still over two hours, but not by much.  Factoring in the swim, the bike and the heat and I could be pleased.

Finally a word on the sun and heat.  The 2015 event took place under a lot of cloud cover, at least until my run started.

This meant less likelihood of sun burn while on the bike, but curiously the temperature is higher - probably a greenhouse type effect.  The swim was non-wetsuit for the pros and should have been non-wetsuit for us age-groupers too.

I'm sure they fiddle the temperature measurements, but I was delighted because I have a rubbish swim kick and the wetsuit floats my legs making the swim much, much easier.  Which, of course, is why the organisers want us to swim in wetsuits.

Ralph, Dan, Gordon, Simon, Mark and Roger
My overall time was 6hr 20min.  I was 7th out of 19 in my 55-59 are group and 245 overall.  I know where I can improve.

After the event I went to the World Championship draw down - not because I thought I had qualified but for the experience.  Depending upon the size of the age-group entry, there are a number of slots allocated to enter the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, to be held in Sept 2016 in Australia.  First place person in each age group is asked whether they want to attend.  If they called out "yes", they'd walk on stage to applause, have their photo taken and then be sent around the back to immediately pay their €305 to enter, committing them to taking part in Australia.

Event briefing - draw down took place here too
If they called out "no", then the person who was second in their age group would be invited.  With some age groups having five slots, and quite a few people reluctant to commit to visiting Australia in a year's time, this process took quite a while.  Overall I thought it a brilliant marketing exercise, using vanity to part people from their money - the desire for applause and the bragging rights to say "I'm going to the world championships".  I'm not being snide - I was genuinely impressed.

When Club la Santa publish the fast turn-around video of the event I'll add it below.  I am in it, at the bottom of the Tabasco climb, first to fail to throw a water bottle into the net basket.  You probably won't recognise me because I'm in silhouette, and my wife still doesn't think it's me.

But it was.  I did it.  

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