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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Ben's Adventure In Mallorca

Stood on the start line I thought “Aren’t you supposed to be getting nervous right about now?” The strange thing was, despite this being my first triathlon, despite this being the first time I had swam with other people around me, despite me ending up far too close to the front of my wave with the prospect of have 300+ people swim over me, despite me never having swum more than 1400m (I had to do 1900m), despite me never running more than 12km (I had to do 21km); I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. And then the gun fired and I started the Mallorca 70.3.

The first part of the swim was a lot of pushing and barging. That’s fine, I was expecting that. I managed to not get kicked in the face and just doggy paddled when I had nowhere to go. Finally after 300m, I found some space and got into my rhythm. The conditions were perfect. The sea was flat as a pancake for the first 500m and even after that the waves weren’t too bad. I lost count of the buoys and just started taking them one at a time. Sighting where I was going wasn’t too hard (though I probably did this more often than I needed to). Before I knew it, we were pushing and barging our way round the turn buoys and heading for home. It was amazing how many people around me couldn’t swim in a straight line. One particular person was like a torpedo with no rudder. He would blast past my nose, kicking like crazy with bubbles everywhere. He’d then stop, breast stroke (taking up twice the room of everyone else), sight the buoy, over correct and the torpedo back past my nose again. Another person decided he needed a rest 300m out, flopped onto his back and started floating; I nearly swam into his crotch. The beach started to creep closer and I started to get excited that I might actually get through this. I’d been told to start kicking towards the end to get the blood back into them. When I tried this, my calves instantly cramped up so I just continued to drag myself in with my arms. The bottom started to come into sight and then finally my hand hit the sand. I had made it! The guy next to me must have felt the same way because he slapped me on the back as he cheered. I had no idea what time I had swum in. I would have been very happy with a mid-40 minute something. I was ecstatic to later find out that I’d done it in 36:03.

Next was my first ever transition, but first I had to run off the beach. This was very weird as there was no blood in my legs and they felt like jelly. I found my bag quite easily thanks to Ben Webeck’s trick of hanging it by all four strings rather than the two that everyone else did. Into the tent and the wetsuit came off quite quickly. I had decided to put some socks and my cycling shoes on here as I only had road shoes and couldn’t put them on while riding the bike. This however meant that I had to run what seemed like the worlds’ longest transition in my cycling shoes. Trust me, half a kilometre takes a long time in clogs with cleats. I had a little bit of messing around to do with my helmet but then I was out and into my familiar territory. I was 280th in my age category out of the swim….. time for some pay back.

It was an interesting feeling having the blood drain back down to my legs. But within a few kilometres, my legs came on line and I was pinging past people. I’d forgotten how rapid Barry’s Trek Speed Concept 9 Series feels, it’s easily the quickest time trial bike I’ve ever ridden. The Enve 65s also felt quick and stable in the cross winds heading up the coast. Man was there a lot of very expensive equipment going very very slowly. Our race numbers had our first name and country flag on them so that people can cheer you on while you’re running. It’s also handy to be able to know which language to try and shout “on the left” in when you’re hammering up to people. If that failed, being able to yell “Carlos, get out the way” usually did the trick. I span my way up the climb at 90-95rpm holding myself at the threshold set from my test with Dr Garry Palmer and reached the top feeling very comfortable. The descent was fast, technical and fun but I took it relatively steady and eat a couple of bars while I wasn’t breathing too hard. The rest of the ride was flat but into a headwind. This was perfect for me as I just tucked up small and tried to make myself as aero as possible. I was really enjoying the shorter 170mm cranks as they allowed me to duck right down into the position while keeping my hips angle nice and open (you can read more on my short crank theory’s here). I made sure I ate and drank round the whole course and went through 3 gels, two packs of shot bloks, 2 bars and about 1200ml of Torq energy drink. I knocked the pace off a little in the last 10km to “save my legs for the run” but still finished the bike leg in 2:28:39. The only person that past me was Antonio Colom who won a stage of the 2009 Paris Nice before failing a dope test. He flew past me on the way to a 2:09 (sticking 6 minutes into the fastest pro triathlete). My ride gave me the 6th fastest bike split in my age category and 50th overall. I had ridden myself from 280th to 26th in my age category and was on for a really good result………. If only I could run.

T2 went very well. Again, the four string hanging technique meant I found my bag very quickly, my running shoes slipped on without a problem and I was off. This is where things started to fall apart. Between injury and illness, the run was the discipline I felt least prepared for. While I had tried to do most of my running after riding my bike, I hadn’t yet run more than 12km and never after such a big effort. I had also never run with a stomach full of gels and fluid before so my stomach’s first reaction was to try and get rid of it and I spent the first 500m fighting the urge to throw up. Then my legs just stopped working; my knees hurt, mu hips ached and my quads started threatening to cramp with every step. I quickly decided that discretion was definitely the better part of valour. Targeting “just finishing” became my goal and if I could get through the run without walking, I would still get round in a reasonable time. So I plodded around watching everyone fly past me again. I discovered that trying to run and drink is rather tricky and choked on a glass of water twice. Cardiovascularly, I was barely trying (I spent a couple of km’s chatting to an older lady from Namibia who was the only one going at my pace) but every time I tried to up the pace, my legs reported “no go” and I was back to plodding. So I just set about taking in the spectacle and enjoying myself. I spotted the legend that is Shane Sutton, one of my old GB coaches, on the side of the road stopped briefly to say hello. “Ben!!!” he says as I shake his hand “What the $#@! Are you stopping for, get going!” in his thick Aussie accent. As I went through the 12km mark, I entered virgin territory and I started to smile….. I might actually get through this. In the last 3kms, my legs started to pack up completely and my pace slowly started to drop off but I pushed on through and rounded the final turn. Crossing the line was a great experience; a final 100m up the beach with a large crowd cheering you in. I crossed the line with my legs in ribbons in a time of 1:56:24. I had hoped to under 5 hours for the whole thing but given how bad I felt in the run, I was quite chuffed to finish my first half Ironman in 5:09:12.

Overall, the whole experience has been great. I have a new appreciation of how difficult it is to be competent at three sports. The bug has definitely bitten but I have a lot of work to do to become competent, especially spending a lot more time conditioning my legs to run. I’ve been surprised how much I’ve enjoyed the swimming, both in training and in the competition. I had an absolute ball on the bike and it was great to feel like a good cyclist again.

There were three things I noticed while I was riding:
Firstly, the amount of triathletes that grind along at very low cadences. It must be hard to go from leg pressing round at 65-70rpm on the bike to running with a nice quick cadence on the run.
Secondly, many riders need to practice drinking and eating while pedalling. I flew past many people that were freewheeling along off their tri bars while I was not only staying aero while drinking, I was barely coming off the power.
Lastly, the level of bike handling left a lot to be desired and not just on the descent. I caught a lot of people on the exit of turn in the towns because they had come to almost a complete stop for even the smallest turn.

I’d like to say a number of thank yous. Firstly to Barry for lending me his wet suit and bike and encouraging me to do a triathlon. Next to Sean from Audiofuel for talking me into doing a half Ironman rather than the Olympic I had originally thought I’d do. To Ray from Swim Canary Wharf for teaching me the basics that made swimming enjoyable. To Justin from Saddleback for loaning me the Enve 65s and Scicon bike box. And finally to Ben Webeck and Cat Benger from ABCPure Triathlon Coaching for showing me the ropes, getting me through my first open water swim and imparting so much knowledge to me in such a short time (if you’re looking for a tri coach, these guys are great).

As I said, I most certainly have the bug now and will be planning my next adventure soon…….. once I can walk without looking like an OAP.    

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