Seven days before race day and it’s time to hop on a plane and head for Lanzarote. By now I’m well into my taper and starting to feel fresh but also a little restless.
Do I need to do another run, should I smash out 2km in the pool or should I stick to my tried and trusted routine? OK, I think I will do more or less what I have done in the past. My taper usually kicks in with about 12 days to go and involves a significant decrease in volume during the first week and nothing much more than light exercise and lots of rest in the final four days.
I usually do a longish ride of 100-120km, a couple of 1hr runs and my usual two swim sessions in the first eight days, and then practically turn the training switch fully off as race day approaches.
When travelling to a race – especially overseas – I really recommend that you make a checklist of what is needed and also what may be needed if circumstances change. I spoke to a couple of people who forgot their wetsuits or race-specific running shoes. Luckily most of these people had travelled early and knew someone who was coming out closer to the race who saved their day and wallet.
As mentioned in my earlier blog, races like Lanzarote can really be affected by the weather and wind. If you’ve never been to Lanzarote, bike and wheel choice is really important. The number of people panicking about wheel and even frame choice a few days before the race was incredible. It was pretty windy to say the least in the buildup to race day, so much so that people were finding it hard to just ride and control their bikes, never mind ride or race for 180km up hill and down dale on exposed roads.
Making the wrong wheel choice coupled with little experience of riding in such conditions probably didn’t help. A considerable number of those athletes who have raced or ridden on Lanzarote before had brought a choice of wheels and even bikes in some instances. Not something that everyone thinks about but if you are travelling to a new venue to race it really is worth doing your homework on the course and conditions you may face.
After arriving in Lanzarote and making my way to Club La Santa where I was staying for the week, first job was to unpack and build my bike and hope that everything I needed was in the bag as planned – it was.
During the next few days I didn’t really do much in terms of training – a short ride, run and a trip over to Puerto Del Carmen to swim one lap of the swim course. My main concerns were to ensure I remained hydrated, start to increase my carbohydrate intake and have some fun and banter with the other two Amigos.
Ain-Alar looked to be in a lot better shape than the last time I had seen him and was looking forward to race day. Till was also in good spirits and ready to ‘rock on the rock’. This would be his first Ironman Lanzarote but he is very familiar with the island and potential weather conditions.
Athlete registration opens on Wednesday, and being based at Club La Santa makes it easy to pop in and do the necessary but also allows you to see and chat to friends and other competitors wandering around with the obligatory Ironman rucksack proudly slung over their shoulder.
Race briefing is next on the agenda and gives Till a chance to excel at what he is renowned for, as once again he has been tasked with presenting the English and German briefings. Till did a good job but got a little carried away and gave a few of our insider tips away to the masses that we had given him confidentially earlier in the week!
Friday finally arrives. For those of you who haven’t raced Ironman distance before this means racking your bike in transition and also putting your carefully packed T1 and T2 bags in transition. No matter which Ironman race you go to, bike racking presents everyone with the classic ‘eyeballing’ opportunity.
As well as being able to look closely at the competition in your own age-group, every triathlete loves to look at the machines of the pro athletes and spot any weird or wonderfully bling pieces of equipment that competitors are using.
The Three Amigos (left to right: Peter Slater, Ain-Alar Juhanson, Till Schenk)
The main talking point on everyone’s lips this time round due to the strong winds is wheel choice, followed closely by ”Where are you going to start in the swim?”. Lanzarote is a ‘self-seeded’ mass start with a funnelled, short run into the sea. For the faster swimmers (sub-60min) it’s about getting close to the front to try and get clear water, for the less speedy it’s about not being pummelled and having a panic attack before the first buoy at 200m.
For myself Friday had turned into D-day. Ever since Tuesday I had been suffering with a throat infection that unfortunately wasn’t getting any better. I’d been avoiding getting close to people who were racing and can only think I caught this infection on the plane. As usual there was a lot of coughing and spluttering going on amongst fellow passengers that was very frustrating when my health had been really good for the previous 12 weeks of hard and large volume training.
As I was still a long way off being 100% healthy by lunchtime on Friday, I took the very difficult but correct decision of deciding I would be a DNS. As you can imagine it was far from an easy decision to make after a solid seven months of training leading up to this race.
All sorts of scenarios had been going through my head since mid-week; should I do the swim and see how I feel, what if I get to 40Km on the bike, approximately the climb of Fire Mountain, feeling like s*** and unable to push on the footrests, maybe I can get through the bike OK at a lower intensity than normal and make it to the run but end up walking.
Ultimately all these scenarios could lead to a DNF but more importantly could be damaging to my short and long-term health. Ironman is a tough and long day out at the best of times; add in the heat and wind of Lanzarote and it presented a risk I wasn’t prepared to take.
I would rather be a DNS than a DNF and choose what was for me the sensible option of supporting my fellow competitors on the day. I know far too many people who have raced or trained hard when their health had not been 100% and have had health problems and complications ever since.
On Saturday morning at 7am Ain and Till to took the start line and plunged into the ocean for the start of the 24th Ironman Lanzarote.
Ain had a great swim; almost back to the times he used to swim as a pro and exited the water in just over 60mins. Not to be outdone, Till posted a swim PB of 70 minutes.
Out on the bike and the wind was blowing – oh boy was it blowing. To be fair it was probably the worst wind on race day in terms of direction, strength and gusts since the mid 2000s, and quite literally meant that the first 120km to the top of the climb at Mirador del Rio would be into a headwind.
Usually on days like this Ain-Alar relishes the bike section, but even he found it hard and had to ensure he paced it correctly and kept on top of his energy and hydration. I went out on course and saw the leaders and then Ain and Till pass through at around the 60Km mark. Ain was in about 50th place overall at this point and they both seemed fine as they headed towards the hardest section of the course.
Ain-Alar Juhanson on the bike
The climbs up to Teguise and then onto Haria and Mirador were going to be pretty brutal in this wind. I headed back to transition to watch the leaders come in off the bike. Just for the record the bike splits of the leading pro athletes were in the region of 15-20mins slower than on a normal Lanzarote day.
Luc Van Lierde was also watching in transition and clocked that the lead guys had done the last 60km with the strong tailwind in 80mins. Ain-Alar and Till made it safely back to transition with bike splits of 5:30hrs and 6:08hrs respectively. It was all down to the run now: could Ain hold it together? Could Till hunt him down?
At the front end of the race, Alessandro Degasperi – who came into T2 some 10mins down on the leaders – certainly found his running legs as he delivered an outstanding 2:47hr marathon to claim his first Ironman title in 8:56:49. In the ladies’ race, Diana Riesler ran a comfortable marathon after posting the fastest female bike split of the day to take the honours in 9:56:03.
Still out on the course and Ain-Alar was beginning to look comfortable again after hitting a deep and dark bad patch at around 13km. At the time even he didn’t think he was going to be able to finish. Like many Ironman finishers, out there it’s how you manage these moments that counts. He managed to pick himself up and posted a 3:21hr marathon to cross the finish line in 10:03hrs. Not only had he taken the coveted Three Amigos Lanzarote Challenge title but also qualified for Kona as an age grouper for the first time.
Till Schenk on the run
At around 26Km on the run course Till decided to call it a day. He was not feeling particularly well and for some unknown reason his heart rate was unusually high. He took the brave decision to call it quits and live to fight another day.
Lessons to be learnt
– Don’t be afraid to DNS or DNF if things aren’t quite what they should be. I’m a strong believer in putting health first.
– Don’t accept challenges under the influence of alcohol – you never know what it may lead to!
– Accepting challenges does have some benefits though. Speaking for the three of us I can safely say that we all enjoyed the prospect of this challenge and it certainly helped us keep a focused eye on training over the past 12 months.
Ironman Lanzarote still remains one of the toughest if not toughest Ironman races on the planet, certainly on a day like we just encountered. Make sure no stone is left unturned in your preparation to ensure you end up in the best condition you can possibly be in on race day.
(All images: Bob Foy)