As I jump off the bike and hand over my precious to a volunteer, my bare feet hit the black asphalt on the street that is temporarily closed off for the race. I don’t know what causes the intense pain under the soles of my feet, the extreme heat of the pavement or the fact that I have just completed a 180km bike ride in a little over 5 hours, with sandy feet, in cycling shoes without socks. I can’t find my red run bag on the racks even if I (as always) have memorized the position, I’m dizzy, overheated and I helplessly shuffle around the racks on what now starts to feel like a barbeque.
Finally, I find my bag and manage to find the well-hidden entry into the changing tent. I quickly assess the situation and realize that they didn’t care to brush of the 5x7meter part of the street that we are on now in the tent; any small chance to put on running shoes without more sand and dirt is gone. Nothing to do, just ignore it, put socks and running shoes on, sun visor, 6 Isostar gels goes in back pocket, one energy boost shot inhaled and it’s lift-off. I think to myself; “this will hurt in the morning – but it’s only 42km – Run Forest Run!”
I think the fact that the Ironman races are done over such a long-time period makes the experience feel like a life time of emotions, ranging from pure rage to absolute bliss. That’s part of why I keep coming back to do yet another Ironman race – to experience that day of contrasts, to become a little better at dealing with the doubts, the pain and once again get that little piece of heaven every now and then. Because that’s what it’s really all about – seconds vs. hours – just as with life in general. The majority is grunt work – meat and potatoes vs. champagne and caviar.
Those are just some examples of moments we go through in an Ironman race. Moments that are so intense that you think they will etch themselves onto your very soul and never be forgotten – but they don’t – fortunately. Those of you who do Ironman races can probably relate and identify with it and for those who don’t race – perhaps this post will give you a little glimpse into the one day journey that an Ironman race is. You might even be inspired to take on the challenge to live one day in your life to the fullest, who knows.
It was the last time they arranged Ironman Los Cabos full distance, having a 70.3 that starts 60min before a full Ironman is perhaps a good conceptual idea but showed lots of challenges for those of us participating with a target to go fast on the tough course. For those of you who are eager to race in tropical and wonderful locations, Cozumel is a hundred times better in every aspect so you will not miss out on a full distance race when they now close this one down.
Perhaps the close down is partly the loss of participants in the race, due to the increase in violence and the recent incident on the actual beach where we started; which left 3 people shot dead by a group of men with automatic weapons. I noticed that there was something strange as there was frequent attendance of masked camouflage dressed military police with automatic weapons which is quite unique attire around the Ironman circuit.
Course: The fact that this was the last time the full Ironman was arranged in Los Cabos was displayed in many parts of the organization, including the poor quality of the athlete’s guide and course description. Fortunately; I arrived a week in advance and could familiarize myself with the construction site on which we were going to race and try to find where we were actually going to race. Los Cabos was hit hard by the hurricane “Lydia” just two month ago and this was the sad unavoidable reason for all the construction works.
Race day: Woke up early and felt like shit – a good sign. Had 6 cups of coffee before breakfast and ate the oatmeal that I had made in the coffee brewer the night before. That didn’t taste like caviar that’s for sure, not Champagne either. Caught up with the Australians that I had got to know in the hotel and we caught the shuttle to the start. When we came down to the start we found that they had not put out any carpet for the long distance triathletes (as they had said they would) so we would have to run first in sand and gravel to get to our bikes. No problem, I was there early so I spent some time to pick out the sharpest rocks and stones from the path so that no-one would cut their feet up running to the bike. By this stage I had come to accept that it was a DIY kind of race – even if they charged full Ironman fees.
Swim: 1 x 3,850m loop – nice relaxing rolling start on the swim, I took the long way as usual and swam on the outside completely alone. At one point someone caught up and wanted to give me a foot and calf massage but a few 6 beat kicks took care of that harassment and as the water turned red behind me I could see that the sharks were fast to attend to the leftovers and get a triathlete for breakfast.
I felt ok on the swim, I really like when it’s wetsuit free swim. I didn’t push it as I rather wanted to have a relaxed swim and put the hard work in on the bike and run. It was really choppy and difficult to get into a good rhythm on the way out and navigation was almost impossible as they had orange buoys and to make it a bit more challenging all the volunteers out on boats, kayaks and paddle boards had the same orange shirts.
Bike: 2 x 90 km loops, close to 2,000m climbing. The bike leg was new for this year and proved to be quite challenging due to temperatures of up to over +36C°. Compared with Kona this course has almost twice the climbing on the bike.
The ride started with a climb out of the resort where the swim start is held. Got out of the resort and on to the highway, knew that Mark (the Australian) would be ahead of me, as he is a former swimmer, but that I might be able to catch up on the bike. Caught up with him after 25km and thought he would hang on (as they allowed 12m draft free distance) but he later told me that I was going a bit faster than his planned speed. Tried to keep a steady pace on a very varied course and follow the advice of my friend Bernhard and stayed around a 235-240W normalized power for the first lap. My legs where burning as I spent far too much time over 300watts the first 60km. Finally, after 60km, I started to find my pace but at this stage I in retrospect think I had done quite a lot of damage to the legs. Trusting my volume of training I slow down a little and continued at a decent speed.
Started to pass 70.3 competitors after 30km. When I first started to pass old ladies; I thought I would only pass the real “back end of the 70.3 race” but then I started to pass younger people. I felt so sorry for them to be passed by a +50 man who have started one hour later on the swim and who have swum the double distance.
The bike ride was a real frying pan where the only time I felt the wind was a strong side wind as you rode along the ocean but as you headed up the mountain the wind was in your back and core temperature going through the roof for most participants. I loved it! During the last climb I must have passed another 75 people from the 70.3 and finally came in for transition.
Run: 4×10,5km loops. “A flat 4 loop course” according to the athlete guide. No-one I spoke to after the race had found the flat parts but rather the opposite and a miserable rock and cement based road surface. Perhaps they changed the course at the last second – what do I know.
During the week leading up to the race I had to work quite a lot from my hotel room with a project that has a tight due date but still managed to do the run loop several times. That is always good but once again proved to me that the marathon in an Ironman is more about just putting your left foot in front of your right foot, right foot, left foot, right foot as Lionel Sanders said after his epic performance in Hawaii this year – it’s less about planning your race in detail and more about pain management and just fight it out.
You can spend eons of time and money analyzing your stride, gate, frequency and still do a shit run if you are not ready to dig really deep and face your demons, physical pain, cramps and possibly physical shutdown. You have to put some skin in the game and be ready to catch the ambulance home if you really want to test you own limits and not just dick around for the t-shirt around midnight.
What I find difficult is to save some juice on the bike, for the run, since I love putting the hurt on during the bike leg.
This race was about more or less the same story – ran a decent first half around 1hr45min I think, then faded and did a 2hr second half marathon where I had some interesting motivational conversations with myself and eventually convinced myself that; falling as rapidly forward as possible and preventing an actual impact of my face onto the pavement by placing a foot in front of the other was an adequate strategy at this stage. Spectators probably didn’t notice that I had fallen apart (unless they watched my splits) as I tried to maintain form but I was descending into the “slow Ironman shuffle hell” running at 5:30 – 6:00min pace/km.
Finish line: At my advanced age, I have actually learned NOT to think about how far I am into the race or how far is left, as this easily becomes counterproductive in the process to find your flow and rhythm – but around 38km into the run I realized that it was time to have a look around. I remembered that at 160km into the bike; someone shouted “14th“– I figured that I was in place 14th.. At 38km into the run I thought that 4-5 people had passed me so I should be in pretty decent position.
I pushed the last 3-4km to make sure not to go over 10hrs and came up to the finish line. Unfortunately; I had been struggling with cramps from around 26km and the little incline up to the finish line was enough to make me cramp up so bad that I folded over the finish line and basically fell down the other side. Not a very graceful finish, but I appreciate that the announcers comment was “here comes our fastest older competitor” instead of “you are an Ironman” which they perhaps said as I was supported into the medical tent.
Total time: 9:54:28. #1 in Age Group 50-54. #20 overall. No-one went under 9hrs in this race, winning time was 9:03 only 3 people went under 9:30. A really tough race in brutal conditions. Just the way I like it!
After party: It took me a good hour in the medical tent to get back in gear and back on my bike to ride home to the hotel. This time I could get back on my feet without IV which I am happy for. Two hours later I was knocking down a few with the Australians in the hotel bar.
Awards and qualification for Kona: Anyone who have read anything on this blog knows that I am highly disappointed with the whole Ironman corporation and the way that they exploit the sport at the cost of fare play –their complete ignorance of the face that it is impossible to enforce the 12meter draft zone rule if you have 2,400 athletes coming out of the water around the same time is giving me sleepless nights! It would be so easy to fix but now one has any interest to address the issue as they are all in the pocket of Wanda (the new Chinese owner).
I had mentally prepared myself to turn down the slot and enjoy the feeling to see some very happy person get it instead but after talking to my wife and knowing that my 11 year old daughter really want to go to Hawaii I thought “WTF”. We can rent a place far away from “dig me beach” (nickname for the Pier in Kailua-Kona, the week leading up to the race) stay away from the expo crap and I can see it as a challenge to ignore the drafting and just cruise the course as a ride down memory lane.
So, I folded – I took the slot and actually look forward to having a nice time in the sun with my family. After spending so much time in Hawaii in that past, I still know some really good surf spots where there are only locals and I am looking forward to hear if the mechanic in the bike shop still remember the Swedish I taught him, if the surf shop “Pacific Vibrations” will rent me a board again, even if I dinged the last I rented in 2001 (I paid for the repair!)
This became a super long post (as I am flying home from LA and can’t sleep), hope you have enjoyed it if you have read this far. Keep safe and happy training!