Swim start at Ironman Mallorca 70.3

Blog: Overcoming a severe bonk to post a new Ironman PB

Age-grouper John Walsh has a day to remember at Ironman Mallorca

Admittedly it’s much easier to knock lots of time off your Ironman if you have set quite a poor benchmark in the first place. Simply choose your Ironman event well in advance, then train as hard as you can for 30 weeks – easy…

I completed Ironman Lanzarote in 2012 to get my first taste of long distance racing. When I agreed to it I thought it sounded like a great holiday destination so well worth a trip. I didn’t realise then that it was – and remains – one of the toughest IM courses on the planet. So in hindsight; a time of just over 14hrs wasn’t too shabby. 

You would have thought I’d learned my lesson when two years later my neighbour (and fitness guru/mentor) Dave Ashcroft suggests entering Ironman Mallorca. Again swayed by the exotic location and white beaches, I agreed without really considering the course, the effect the heat, wind and mountains may have on the difficulties of the event. I suppose I thought if I can get round Lanza, Mallorca should be a breeze. 


So 30 weeks ago I started my training plan. I decided to try and follow Don Fink’s ‘Be Iron Fit’ plan. This time I would try the competitive program rather than the intermediate level I used last time. This would mean an average of around 12hrs per week, with a peak week of 20hrs. This involved full sign-off from the rest of my family, and also booking a few Fridays off work towards the end of peak training to fit in the long bike sessions. 

The aim was that I would arrive in Mallorca in the best shape of my life and ready to try and knock a full hour off my previous Ironman time. I tried to follow the program as best as I could but if I’m honest I fell down on the swim training (my weakest area) and often struggled to reach all the threshold training on the bike. I found it difficult to get my heart rate up that high on the bike: probably because I didn’t push myself enough…

On reflection I enjoyed the training program and certainly felt fitter and stronger by the end of 30 weeks than I had ever done before. It’s difficult to accurately assess my fitness levels but a couple of key indicators were that I was now at my lowest weight since high school (a slender 11.5 stone at 6’1”) and I ran a PB in a 10K race just weeks before the event (41:44mins), knocking a full minute off my previous PB.

I’d also picked up some cycling tips on a recent London to Paris (L2P) cycle trip and hoped to increase my speed on the straight-ish parts of road in Mallorca. This meant making use of my aerobars for much longer periods than I did in Lanzarote, and also using a secondhand aero helmet I’ve bought. 

I was assured by the seller that it was free time I was buying, though the other side of the coin is that in Mallorca the sun may make your head explode if you wear one when it’s too hot. I was also concerned I would look like a idiot wearing one while being really near the back.  

Everyone enjoys the feeling of passing someone on a Cervelo P5 or new Pinarello – I certainly didn’t want to be labelled under the ‘all the gear no idea’ heading. However after inspection I was happy that new aero helmet wouldn’t put me in that bracket. I’d been trying to stay down on my aerobars for longer and longer periods on my training rides, with the hope that this would improve my time on race day. 

I think this was time really well spent and set me in good stead for the bike element. After advice I took two helmets out with me in case the weather was too hot for the aero one.  But on a test run the day before, the helmet felt fine so decision was made and Ironman stickers were placed on the aero helmet ready for race day, one less thing to worry about…


Dave and I (along with our wives) arrive in Mallorca on Thursday with the race scheduled for a 7:35am start on the Saturday morning. The plan is to register on Thursday afternoon, go for a swim on Friday morning then check in the bikes and attend the race briefing that afternoon all ready for an early start the next day. All goes to plan with the test swim, Dave and I familiarise ourselves with the start area, location of the first buoys, layout of the route etc… 

As we come out of the water and start taking off our wetsuits, a chap from Northern Ireland asks if we’ve heard the rumoured ‘no wetsuit ruling’ for the event. I quickly (if not even a little patronisingly) assure him that would not happen. At worst they would give participants the option not to wear one if the temps hit the required rates.

Having just swum in a somewhat cold Med by the start area we assure him that was not going to happen; we also explain as experienced Ironman athletes that IM Lanza was a wetsuit swim this year and that was even hotter! It feels good to share our knowledge as experienced Ironman racers…

You can imagine our faces at the race briefing later that day when the news is confirmed: ‘NO WETSUITS’ for the event. The reason given is that the water temp is 25.5°C and that anything over 25°C means a mandatory ‘no wetsuits’ ruling. However even without a thermometer to hand it’s blindingly obvious the water temps don’t reach those levels. Possibly the real reason is likely to be the big ‘hoo-ha’ the race briefing made about Ironman Mallorca being the Kona of Europe. 

On and on they rambled about how the swim was going to be ‘Kona-style’ – it will be interesting to see how they market it next year. I personally don’t think they need to rely on this as the event is a sell out anyway, maybe they plan to increase the numbers. But we’ll see – maybe no wetsuits is the way forward? In fact Dave and I now think that you are not a real Ironman until you have completed one without a wetsuit – FACT!

Race day

So on to race day and the start – and I’m glad to say I’m much better prepared mentally for the start of Ironman Mallorca than I was in Lanzarote. I think this is a combination of having done an Ironman race before and knowing that I’ve prepared better for this event than any I’ve ever done.

I’m experienced enough now to know to stand back for 1min before I start the swim, and also benefit from my wife being at the start with me – that good luck hug and last-minute assurance about the training I’ve done is crucial for me – but maybe that’s me just being a little needy!!

Fink talks of hitting barriers and problems during the Ironman race, and outlines ways to deal with them – however I didn’t expect this one about the wetsuits to land the day before the start! However it wasn’t one I could control, so I quickly accept the ruling and just lower my expectations for swim times and revert back to my approach in Lanza for the swim which is that anything below the cut-off is just great (cut off for the swim is 2:20hrs)…

The water’s beautiful and crystal clear: this is the type of location open-water swimming was invented for, rather than Pickmere Lake on a cold spring morning! So the mantra I repeat during my swim is: avoid the human traffic as much as possible, and try to enjoy it as this is a once (or twice) in a lifetime experience.

The taste of salt is particularly pungent in Alcudia Bay so I’m glad I had done a test swim the morning before. “No wetsuits isn’t such a big deal after all,” I think as things seem to be going really well – then a huge guy swims right across me. Cheers mate!

Don’t panic

The trick is not to panic when swimming and concentrate on breathing in and out; regulate the breathing, slow that heart rate and keep moving forwards. I manage to cope without drowning then think to myself “I’ll pass you on the bike my friend”.

But overall considering the congested scenes at the start I’m glad to get through the swim relatively unscathed. There’s significant congestion at each of the main turning points but a sensible wide approach to the corner helps to avoid major problems.

I understand from the race pack and race briefing that the two-lap (including an Australian exit) swim course consists of a 2.05km loop then a 1.75km loop. And having settled into the swim quite well I check my watch after the first loop: 1:04hrs! Not good; this means things are going slowly and I’m on for a swim split of around 2hrs.

This is disappointing because I feel my new longer slower stroke is going well and I haven’t drifted off course too much on the first loop – although I do remember once looking up to see a canoe with someone in it pointing me back to the rest of the group…

As I approach the turnaround point of the second loop I notice only a further 16mins had gone by. Strange? It transpires that the loops were actually 2.5km and 1.3km so I was making good time after all. My laid back approach has helped me not to panic after the first loop.

I start running out of the water at just past 1:34hrs – WOW I’m chuffed and don’t even feel shattered.. I cross the mat to T1 at 1:36hrs and feel like a god – maybe those lessons with Masters swimmers have helped my swim technique and possibly the sub-13hrs total time is on after all?

To continue reading John's report click here


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