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Sunday, 12 July 2009

Ironman Roth...

Sunday 12th July
Ironman Roth – what an amazing day! The whole town makes you feel super welcome. The swim was easy, the bike is fast (4hrs 48) and the run is flat. Did 9hrs 24 – need to improve the run if I am to break the magical 9hr barrier. This was the first IM distance on the Parlee TT – in love!!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Death by a thousand pedal strokes

This was written by Bespoke Cycling Team Rider Dean Hudson and is a wonderul account of his Marmotte adventure. A must read for anyone who either done it or is looking to do a future edition

Actually, death by about 35,000 peddle strokes. It was hotter than a hot thing in a hot place on a hot day and I knew I was in trouble when I was passed on the first climb by a guy with one leg - chapeau to the guy but he could have waited a bit longer than 15 minutes before he went past. I was then humbled when i passed a guy with one arm and one leg - unbelievable courage. The weather was brutal, the Alpe was murderous and i started to suffer from heat exhaustion about 1/3rd of the way up it and had to dig deep - well that is the point really isn't it? Er, no.

So here is how it went.

Randall drove me down to 1km from the start and i unloaded the bike, put on the shoes and cleared my head. Trouble was the only phrase i could think of was "oh cr8p, this is going to be hot and i don't do hot".

I was lucky enough to start in the front pen of 400 riders with last year's top guys, the top female finishers from last year and a few old guys who clearly have worked hard for that status over their racing careers. It was a real buzz and i got to listen to the out of tune band a lot closer than in 2007 when i was in the usual pen for nos. 401-2000. That was cool for a guy newish to the sport. We set off with pace car, outriders with sirens, all very grand. Then i was engulfed by wave after wave of crazy men who were clearly taking their riding tips from Mark Cavendish as the pen behind was also let go. At 32mph i consider not many people should be overtaking me on the flat. I had to check my tyres were pumped up as people went screaming by. The front group was gone already and i settled in, dodging idiots all over the place, watching left and right behind, avoiding road islands ahead and trying to remember that this was going to be a long day - it was 7.05am and it was 19c already.

Then came the most memorable sight. As we went through Allemont the road zigs and zags up to the top of the dam. In the dim light you could see 400 riders ahead and the front group already clear and out of their saddles as they charged up the zig and then the zag. That was when i knew this was a great event. These weren't good UK riders out doing a hard 5 hour sportive, this was a real race for places with guys who only wanted to do well and make a name for themselves. There were then of course the guys like me who wanted to see what we could do in unfamiliar terrain and climates.

My concentration was only broken by the wailing of a crazy American called Randall who was parked up at the top of the dam. Yes, in amongst the polite clapping of the locals that had turned out, and even a couple of construction guys who seemed to be lost, there was the obligatory American letting rip with words of encouragement and telling me to shift butt. He also made it clear to the guys drafting me that they were pond scum and should get the hell out of there. That was also cool.

I trundled up the Glandon. For sheer length it is a climb you need to be careful on. People often say that you don't need to worry about this one - that may be right for the next level up from me but if you are targeting 7 1/2 to 8 hours, you had better pay attention or it will come back to haunt you. 1hr 48 over the top, fill a water bottle and ready for the descent. That put me 765th.

The descent is steep, twisty and can be scary as the road is narrow and the margin for error is small at such speeds. I passed one guy who had a broken collarbone or arm and was in a bad way. His bike was over the side. It took about 10 mins to safely pass the police car that was pacing us and that cost me a little time but allowed me to settle. This thing takes 30 mins to get down and you need to really concentrate as the surface can be bad on the inside of corners.

Next job was to find a train heading to the telegraph. I couldn't find one until i looked behind me and found my passengers right there - fancy that. I hauled us up to the next group down the road and drifted to the back. About 50 of us hit the Telegraph together and by now it was getting hot. Just over 3 hours in now and the tarmac was radiating heat that it hadn't lost from the hot day yesterday. Hit an ok rhythm and settled in. I yo-yo'd backwards and forwards with a lady with a full Cervelo kit and bike who was really pounding the peddles. We passed lots of people as the Glandon came back to haunt them. The pre summit drinks stop was not there and there was only a hose at the top. I came over the top in 513th place. I rode on knowing there was one in Valloire, the hottest place on earth.

Slipped my chainring coming in to Valloire and allowed some of the people to pass me again that i had painstakingly passed on the ascent. Annoying. Then the painful 8% climb out of Valliore that everyone forgets about. Went past the same people again. Got to the feed station and dunked my legs under the hosepipe. It was really hot. Filled 2 water bottles and was off again. I could see Ms Cervelo in the distance. This was now getting hard. Pace was down, HR up and heat beginning to tell. Along the valley floor it is open to the sun nearly all day, the rocks reflect the heat at you and flippin' horse flies appear from nowhere and bug the cr8p out of you. Along the valley floor to the right hand turn - more water, this time on my head. Got told off by the marshall - whatever. It was becoming all about me now. I had done this before and i knew a good time was going to come at a big personal cost. Up I went. Power good, head ok, slowly catching people but i knew i was on the edge. I passed Ms Cervelo, who looked like she was either (a) knackered, or (b) taking photos for the album. I put my money on (a) as it made me feel better. HR creeping in to the high 160s. I could back down now or go for broke. Yup, like a bad poker player i went all-in with no hand hoping that the guy sitting opposite couldn't see the terror behind my dark glasses. Power began to drop but i was still passing people. Finally hit the top in 477th place. Gel and slug of water, gillet on and down i went. I carried an extra bottle up to save not having to stop as it was cold the day before and i didn't want to lock up. It was hot today though. I didn't even need arm warmers.

I did the descent the day before to get it back in my head. That was worthwhile. I flew down. I caught a fast group and then we got caught by some guys who started an hour later so were on for 6.30 or top 30. I tucked in as we piled it on through the dark tunnels that no-one could see anything in and for the first time i felt like i was cutting it with some of the bigger boys. You can tell a really good rider from a good one when you look at their shape and form. These guys were 10 to 15 years younger than me and very good. I had fun.

It takes about 1hr 10 to get to the bottom of the Alpe and I caught the train the whole way. I drank 1litre of fluids on the way down and took down another gel. As i stepped off the train they continued up the Alpe and i ran for a hose pipe and stuck it on my head. Did I tell you yet that it was quite hot? 1 bottle of cold water, 1 bottle of energy drink and electrolyte. One for the head and one for the mouth, i just had to remember which bottle.

I set off again, up the short road to that little white line across the road that marks the start of the Alpe. I hate that line. Turned left and up i went. Power ok, feeling ok. 10mins in, ok. 20mins in. hmmm. Goosebumps and clammy skin. Not good. 30mins in and can't get HR below 171. Definitely not good. Had to think quick. Time now not important as i had only felt like this once before and it is not a good memory. Jumped off the bike and took down some fluids and hosed myself down with the water in my bottle. HR dropped immediately. Yup, i was starting to get heat exhaustion was my best guess. I had 40 mins min left and for the first time i thought about a DNF. Climbed back on and tried to back down the effort but at 10% gradients that is easier said than done. Still couldn't get the HR below 170. Rode for another 10 mins and then went under a standing hose pipe. Went on for another 10mins and HR was now 175 at 210w. Started to get a bit sketchy and concentration became hard. But there was no FW was i getting off the bike again. i knew i could do 175 for 20 mins if i needed to so i got myself together, rode even slower and started to wonder why i was such a dipstick for doing these things. By the time i got about half way through the possible answers i was 4km from the top. Headwind - what, you are kidding me. Yup, you can keep your cooling breeze now thanks, i need some speed. Up i went, resisting the temptation to stop again. I put on a sprint for the crowds - they gave a great cheer as i blasted over the top on the drops (I suspect it looked a little less spectacular from the their point of view) - and overtook about 10 guys. Everyone was dead on their feet. Guys were even unclipping with 500m to go.

Finished in 7:46:24. Rank 458 out of 5295. Climbed the Alpe in 1:12:54, or 422nd fastest - not sure how that works given the mess i was in.

Was it worth it? This was a lesson in suffering for a ranking number on a spreadsheet that no-one will be able to find again in a year from now apart from me. I targeted 7:45 so job done. Huge improvement on 2007 so job done. Of course it was worth it, what else let's you know that you can still be a little different and that we don't all have to strive for mediocrity. My kids ask how my racing was and want to race as well and be healthy. What better example can i be for them?