Friday, 29 May 2009

Lanzarote Ironman 2009: Race Report

I woke at 4am on race morning and quickly ate a bowl of cereal. If I eat quickly I can beat the butterflies before they take off and make eating very difficult. I sun creamed up with Ellie's SF 50 and prepared my water bottles and race kit. We were staying in a fabulous apartment complex in Puerto Del Carmen so it was less than a 5 minute walk down to transition. Entering transition on race morning makes it all very real, BOOM the nervous energy smacks you in the face. Pump up the tyres, check the bike, again, etc etc then find a quiet spot to relax and gather my thoughts.

I wondered whether pulling on my wetsuit for the first time since last August was a sensible thing to do (it still fitted) however a May race doesn't give much open water swimming preparation opportunity in England. I walked down to the beach with Tom, Helen and Sam feeling very excited and just a little nervous. I suddenly remembered that it was a running beach start so no chance for a quick swim warm up...BANG off we go.

The swim was the usual fight for clear water, I tried to stay calm as people swam across me and through my line. A few aggressive wider strokes helped clear some water, and a few narrower tighter strokes avoided a full on water fight. I felt good in the water and exited the first lap in 34.28. Lap 2 also had moments of congested water. Towards the top buoy I started to feel sick. I think this was due to the swell, swallowing some salt water and a general motion sickness, I was keen to get out of the water. I struggled to enjoy the final 10 minutes, however a couple of shoals of fish and the clear water helped. I was very happy to get out of the water in a time of 1:10:30. A solid swim time over a long course (probably 2 to 3 minutes according to most people) I wanted to compose myself and get rid of the sick feeling so walked up the beach and through T1. This, plus the longest transition area in the world didn't make for a speedy transition to my bike.

Out onto the bike I took my time to get my heart rate down and settled into a steady pace. The bike course was a real unknown. I'd had various descriptions from Tom but didn't really know what to expect. I rode nice and steady to a high 150's and low 160's heart rate feeling strong. I went through El Golfo and passed Helen who was looking nice and comfortable. I then pushed on to the first notable climb up through the Fire Mountains. Nothing more than a steady climb, keeping the cadence high in the 39 x 26. So many people cranking BIG gears WHY? Went really fast down the other side past La Santa trying to eat and drink. My stomach was on the edge and it wasn't easy or enjoyable to keep eating bars, gels, powerbar ride jellies or drink water. We turned in land and headed towards Mirador de Haria, it was here where it started to get HOT.

In reflection I don't think I drunk enough water through this section, but I was feeling good still and climbed Mirador de Haria and Mirador del Rio well passing a few athletes. I was starting to clock and pay more attention to the distance markers and things were looking good for my target time of 5:40, knowing the last 50km were pretty quick with a tail wind. I then checked my bike computer and was confused to see a 10 mile difference between my distance and that of the course markers. Convinced the signs wouldn't be wrong I concluded that my bike computer must be not working properly so I cracked on. At 175km (signs) we went up a slight rise and I thought we'd turn left into PDC and I would land a 5:40 bike split, instead we went straight on, and on and on and on.....I was confused, my head was filling with tired thoughts and I was watching the clock tick on. At the same time the heat was taking it's toll and I was feeling dehydrated and running low on energy.After what seemed like an eternity I turned into the final 500m along the beach front. Getting off the bike in 6:07:01, I was feeling pretty smashed, I stroll through transition trying to compose myself and find some energy. Not knowing the course had certainly made the bike harder, how they got the road signs so wrong one wonders, but that didn't really help either. However 6:07:01 was still a solid time so lets get on with this marathon run.
My target pace was around 8:45 min/mile, I'd swapped my Garmin 50 for the 405 so had mile splits from the word go. Showing low 9's I was a little off pace but I carried on feeling pretty good. I clocked my support crew, Sarah, Ellie and Evie and Tom's friends who would also shout me round Andy, his wife and his two girls, and Ian and EK, cheers folks the encouragement came at just the right times and your smiling faces made me pretty emotional during each lap. The run was far from flat with 3 climbs, well not really climbs but definitely gradual ascents each lasting between 100m and 200m. The wind that had blown me part of the way home was now in my face to the turn around point. I was running solid and went through the first lap in 59:24. Lap two was knocked out in 1:02:04 giving me a 2:01:28 first 1/2 marathon. Lap three is always the killer and here was no exception. I tried to drink plenty of water and eat gels and orange segments, and seeing Tom, Helen and Sam giving it plenty really helped my motivation. At the top turn on lap three I picked up Russ. Russ is a really solid IM athlete who has gone sub 10 hrs plenty of times. I followed his progress in Australia where he has been training and his adventures at Epic Camp early this year. Today he was having a bad day, hampered with a huge saddle sore preventing him cycling efficiently and running without pain. I convinced him to run and we knocked off lap three in 1:08:07 It was great to have some company, cheers Russ. Just one more lap to go.

I was starting to melt in the sun, I was turning into a salty mess and my energy levels were dropping very low. We walked through the aid stations taking on water, coke, gels and more orange. The aid stations were great land marks and we eventually made the top turn for the last time. I just had to run back down the course. Did I throw in a couple of sub 9 minutes sections? sure did, Did I stop at each aid station to stretch my exploding hamstrings? sure did. Did I feel great? sure did. As I approached the finish shoot I grabbed Ellie and holding her hand ran the final 25m through the cheering crowds to cross the line elated and smashed in a time of 11:53:36

My Marathon time was 4:20:33 with the final 1/2 taking 2:19:08, however I was still really really pleased. There were people exploding all over the run course, so many were walking from such an early stage. I'd run it all and once again put together three solid disciplines. I might have been an hour outside my prediction, but I always knew it was very ambitious and based a little loosely on what I thought I was capable off. Ultimately times are not what it's about. It's about putting together a training plan, showing commitment and dedication to that plan, taking the training highs and lows, and coming out on race day and enjoying the moments the race throws at you. The feeling at the top turn knowing you only have 5km to go is amazing, it's only surpassed by the one as you go across the line and the commentator shouts,

"Here comes another Ironman, it's Ben Garrard from England" that is me....

Lanzarote Ironman was incredible. Once again I have had a fantastic ironman experience. I loved racing with my friends Tom and Helen, that really added to the occasion, cheers guys. The final word must go to Sarah, Ellie and Evie who also had a really long day out on the course supporting me, and have been fabulously supportive during my training and preparation period, I love you all so much.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Now is the time.....

I cannot believe it is race week. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was entering Ironman Lanzarote. It doesn't feel that long ago that I was pulling on winter overshoes, or waking at 3am in excruciating pain with my ear troubles. On paper 20 weeks or 10 weeks doesn't actually seem that long a period of time, however a long time it is when you are training, focussing, recovering whilst working, daddying and husbanding. I was chatting to Helen whilst we were completing our final long brick session, and I have come to the conclusion that the 12 weeks specific preparation time talked about by many coaches is 12 weeks for a reason. It's not so much a physiological reason but much more a psychological one. For me I am totally ready to race on Saturday. The danger of starting your preparation too far out is when you really want to race you've still got 4 or 6 weeks of training left to do. This happened to me last year with Switzerland. I was ready to race in late May early June, the final few weeks were challenging, holding on to the focus. This year however I'm like a tethered lion who hasn't been fed, I'm like a greyhound in the starting gates, like an energetic kid at the top of a water slide. Let me get at the bad boy Ironman they call the toughest in the barren Lanzarote landscape. I cannot wait.

Back before Christmas I thought about my goal for Lanzarote. I think it's ambitious but realistic at the same time if I can execute a great race. It's based on my perception of where I think my fitness is, based on my performance against training buddies in specific training situations, and based on my experiences at IMUK 2007 and IM Switzerland 2008. So here it is;

Swim 1.08 (1.46 100's)

T1 and T2 10 mins

Bike 5.40 (19.5mph)

Run 3.50 (8.45 min/mile)

Total: 10.48, if only it was that easy.....

It is great to have a goal, but it really isn't the about hitting the finish line in 10.48. Saturday is all about enjoying the occasion, sharing the experience with my family and my training friends who will also be crossing the finish line. Sharing the experience with my friends who will be following my progress on and fundamentally doing my best whatever should be thrown at me on the day.

Ironman Lanzarote is also about a bit more this year. I was really moved when I watch an ironman DVD witnessing a Dad completing an ironman race with his son. Dick Hoyt's son has been in a wheel chair all his life since his umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck at birth. Dick swims 2.4 miles pulling Rick in a small inflatable boat, rides 112 miles with Rick on a special seat pod on the front of his bike and runs 26.2 miles pushing the wheel chair, Dick allows his son to experience all the emotions of Ironman racing, that is an awesome gift he has given his son for the last 25 years. I have been given the ability to complete physical endeavours, often I take my daily activity for granted. I think further down the line I would like to help others who cannot easily be physical the opportunity to experience the joys it brings. This year I decided to collect sponsorship for a local organisation who help provide youngsters with learning and physical disabilities access sport. They specifically organise a weekly swimming sessison at a local pool, also organising gala's and other competitions. I hope to raise in excess of £500 for them. If you would like to donate please contact me.

Before I sign off I must thank everybody who has wished me well for Saturday and especially my best Buddy Ben who has given me some great Ironman wisdom over these last few weeks. Sarah has packed her holiday clothes, Ellie has packed her swimming gear and Daddy's Best Supporter T shirt, and Evie has nicked my swimming goggles (see todays photo) I've my bike and race gear all packed and we are ready to rock and roll.

Well that's about it from me, next time it will be race report time. An Ironman race to enjoy and a week in Lanzarote with my family to savour, sounds pretty good to me.......

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

100 variables, well 55......

Bit stuck for what to write this week hence it's Tuesday and I have yet to post. Then I remembered a list I wrote before Christmas. Whilst reading a cycling book (GB track cycling team success I think) I read the foreword written by Clive Woodward. In it he talked about trying to make the England Rugby Team as good as it could possibly be. He simply said that if you could improve 100 things each by 1% the net improvement would be substantial. This is also very much in line with Dave Brailsford thinking with the Cycling team. So I set about creating my '100 things list' I didn't get to 100 but I did manage to identify some potential changes that should progress my racing. I must admit I haven't paid particular attention to the list but it has been in the back of my mind, some of the targets, goals further forward than others.

When I look at my list I have hit some of my goals, improvements, variables, others I have not.

The variables might be ‘Race Day’ Variables or ‘Training’ Variables. If improved they will have a positive impact on Race Day performance.

1. Shoulder and Pectoral Flexibility; more aero.
2. Hip Flexor Flexibility; running efficiency.
3. Ankle Flexibility; running and swimming efficiency.
4. Hamstring Strength.
5. Quadriceps Strength.
6. Gastrocnemius Strength.
7. Gluteals Strength.
8. Core Stability.
9. Triceps Strength and Muscular Endurance.
10. Latissimus Dorsi Strength and Muscular Endurance.
11. Concentration on the bike.
12. Ride a neater line.
13. Stay more still whilst pedalling.
14. Increase cycling cadence.
15. Change Front end of the bike; improved aero position.
16. Use the ‘Drafting Distance Rule’ effectively.
17. Remove a head tube spacer, lower front end.
18. Descend faster.
19. Get a streamlined hair cut?
20. Take Corners faster, be more confident.
21. Pee whilst riding.
22. Ride hard ‘over’ the top of climbs.
23. Ride on the drops during every session, at least once.
24. Reduce the time spent free-wheeling.
25. ‘Pull Up’ the pedal, particularly when climbing.
26. Buy lighter pedals.
27. Research FAST Tubular tyres, change if necessary.
28. Increase speed just prior to a climb, increase cadence 10rpm.
29. Switch from 9 to 10 speed gears; wider gear ratio, smoother changes.
30. Improve fat metabolism.
31. 23rd May; weigh 72 kg’s.
32. Drink more water, every single day.
33. Reduce my body fat.
34. Practice Race Day Nutrition on long training days.
35. Race Day Nutrition, get it right.
36. Eat more ‘proper real’ foods.
37. Each day eat less sugary foods.
38. Eat more food on race morning.
39. Race in a light coloured top to assist thermoregulation.
40. In the water, keep my elbow higher.
41. Start the pull phase earlier in my stroke.
42. Make less splash during hand entry.
43. Run Tall.
44. Increase running cadence.
45. Relax my fingers and hands when running ‘holding a crisp’; visual trigger.
46. Be more relaxed on race morning.
47. Remove negative thoughts whilst racing, think of something more beneficial.
48. Stay positive whilst racing, engage positive experiences .
49. Learn and use some ‘visualisation’ techniques.
50. When it hurts, make it hurt more.
51. Be pro-active to training sessions, not just re-active; USE HR monitor or Garmin.
52. Shave my legs?
53. Learn to ingest 1/4 Nuun tablets neat, followed by water to reduce the need to walk through feed zones as wait for the tablets to dissolve in a cup.
54. Stretch after each run session.
55. Maximise the first 1hour post hard or long sessions, ingest a balance of nutrients.

So what's left to do? Here's a few thoughts. 52. Shave my legs, with a divorce threat if I do I have given that one a miss. 19. Get a stream lined hair cut, worried like Samson I might lose my strength so will give that a miss (Tim Don seemed to do fine) 12. Ride a neater line, done, every time I rode home I'd try to stick on the white line for the 1 mile stretch. 21. Pee whilst riding, not a great thing to practice whilst training, so will decide on race day. 45. Relax my fingers and hands when running, seems to have worked, still got the 'crisp' in my mind (Walkers salt and vinegar work best) 31. 23rd May weigh 72kg's, I'm gonna be closer to 72 than 75.

Having re-read my list I still have 10 days in which to get a few more variables in the bag. Will it work, well it certainly won't do any harm.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Be at your best

My family has been through a challenging 2009, various members of it have found themselves in hospital. After a prolonged spell trying to fight off a bad case of pneumonia my Grandad passed away. In his mid 80's he just didn't seem to have much fight left, he passed away peacefully having the day before said his good bye's to his son and daughter. It's been a difficult time for my Dad and his Sister. Traditionally families have been really close geographically, times have changed and with Grandad living 125 miles from Dad visiting was made quite difficult. I think losing the old style family network certainly makes tough times tougher.

Since the New Year Dad has somehow (it's cause is still unknown) become quite ill with an ear problem known as Labyrinthitis. After a deliberating few months he was making great progress getting back to his active lifestyle. Last Monday he had another far worse attack, collapsing and as a result he currently finds himself in Milton Keynes Hospital. After a difficult few days he now seems to be making good progress and should shortly be home. Then it will be a really slow build up. That's the difficult part. Dad is a sportsman, he played competitive football into his early50's, he continues to race his bikes, last year for his 60th Birthday he nailed 207 miles in his first 24hr Time Trial, he coaches football to 30 odd children every Saturday morning in his village, and coaches junior school sport each afternoon at Swanbourne House School. However, take it easy he must if he is to get back to full fitness and his busy lifestyle. You'll be back soon Dad, keep setting and achieving those goals.

Dad being 150 miles away has meant I have not been able to get down to see him yet. On the phone all he wanted to talk about was how my training was going. He didn't want me to visit, just wanted to make sure I didn't miss my key training sessions. I know he is as excited as I am regarding Lanzarote. He was with me when I raced IMUK and during IM Switzerland he couldn't let me have all the fun, so between following my progress of the Internet he slipped in a 100 odd mile bike ride. With that in mind I made sure I made the most of this weeks training.

I wanted to recover from last weeks 15 hours, and Sunday's big brick session, so settled for 3 really solid key sessions. Session 1 was a swim. For those that know me you'll be a little concerned by my swim volume, 'overdoing it' some may shout. This was swim session number 4. I settled for a nice even paced 6 x 500m and felt strong.

Thursday I ran long. Bouncing along the canal tow path I felt really comfortable. I wondered if my Garmin was struggling to find a satellite signal when it consistently bleeped out low 8min mile pace. Feeling great I turned at 8 miles and decided to aim to even pace it or negative split the return journey. Not quite bouncing I ran up the drive for a tremendous 16 mile run in 2.07, averaging 7.57 min/mile. To say I was happy would be an understatement. Sarah was working so Ellie and Evie got the brunt of my excitement and happiness. I collected them from nursery and we called in to Frankie and Bennies for Chocolate Ice Cream Sundae's :)

That then leads me to Sunday's session. The final brick session with big session training hunters and great friends Tom and Helen. When I ride the bike I like to stick it in a gear and bang out consistent power and heart rate, hence my excitement for sessions on the A168 (see previous blog) Sunday's ride however was totally different. Tom had decided on a very hilly 425m of climbing per 13.7 mile loop, followed by a long run. I was a little nervous of such a hilly route, and one where there was no one section to relax and tick along. However, I knew I was strong and going well on the bike and thought I'd try to make the hills as comfortable as possible and work the descents that I could (some were too fast and technical to pedal) hoping to match Tom on each lap. Lap 1 was eventful, my saddle bag with spare Tub, tools and cO2 canisters decided today would be a good day to snap off. I stopped picked it up stuffed it down my jersey and watched Tom fly past me on a descent, I somehow managed to empty the bits into my pockets and stay in contact with Tom, good start. Lap 2 was fine except for the wet road descending Norwood Edge. Tom flew past me again as I descended like a cowardly idiot. I'm not great at descending given that I rarely get the chance to practice and the wet roads had messed with my mind. I blurted out some words of disgust at the crappy wet roads to Tom as I caught him up. To which he replied 'it's really not that bad, it could be wet in Lanzarote, just relax'. Good call, a kick up the arse, it did the trick and on the next 3 laps I got my self sorted and come down hill pretty quickly. On the climbs I felt strong, and across the top section with a huge head wind I felt in control pushing out a solid cadence and good speed. We had planned 6 laps, however at the start of lap 5 I started to get a few twinges of cramp in my quads. This I put down to the severity of the climbing, and the changing demands from out of the saddle climbing to head down big gear mashing. So I decided that 5 good laps would be better than a 6th where I leave myself out on the road. I was really pleased with my even paced riding, and felt good as I dismounted, put the bike in the car and set off for the run. We set up another 1/2 mile out and back, along a quiet flat lane. Ticking along nicely I felt super. At this stage Richard Leake from the Tri Club joined me, he was on his bike and happy to roll along beside me chatting away. Thanks Richard the company was great. I'd done 6 miles when Helen rocked up, and she joined us. The miles went by at a quick rate and I was still feeling good. Tom rolled into town, looking pretty smashed, he'd lost his head with 2 laps to go, but managed to get through it. Lose his head he might off but he hadn't lost his run legs, he knocked out 20 solid miles at 7.23min/mile pace, awesome stuff. I called it a day still feeling good at 14 miles for an average pace of 8.39 min/mile. Helen went on to run 20, great stuff. That was the end of another massive session. Big thanks to Tom and Helen, another big brick session, done individually but totally together out there, encouraging and pushing each other on, just what it's all about :)

Not only do I feel as fit and strong as I ever have, I am extremely positive going into the final 3 weeks before race day. I said many weeks ago that I wanted I get plenty of Ironman specific sessions in. I have definitely achieved that. I am feeling strong and controlled in the pool, very comfortable with the distance and clear in my mind that I can ride hard on the bike, and confident that I can knock out a steady run pace. Into the final couple of weeks and that's a great feeling.

Today's photo is of my Garage wall, race numbers, training sessions and inspirational images of Chris Hoy et al. What you can't see is what's written on the mirror for me to see whenever I lift weights or get ready for a training session. It simple say's,

Saturday 23rd May, Be at your best.

I know I am going to be.....