So where do I start? I have written the beginning of this several times, I have started it in the bar of the Salthill Hotel in Galway, the departures lounge at Dublin Airport, the departures lounge at Heathrow T5 and now I am starting (again, as the computer crashed and lost my previous drafts) on the TGV platform at Geneva Station.
Let’s start at the beginning – how did the preparation for the race go? Well it has been a busy year. If you have read my previous blog entries you will know that I have had a hectic time running around the world with my work – I have visited over twenty countries in the past eight months (some of them multiple times) and this plays havoc both with the body clock (when changing time zone) and life in general. This has not led to building a good platform for middle distance triathlon performance. In addition, at home, Evie has led me to change priorities as well, I try and help out when I can, although this is not always possible. Through it all Lizzie has been unbelievably understanding and supportive and the children have not complained too much when I have not been there for breakfast (again) and then when I turn up from a run or ride, run away, as apparently, I am “all sweaty”. Also I have a fantastic coach in Mike, he is excellent at adapting the training program to my work travels and has helped keep me injury free all year.
So enough of the reasons why the year has been hard, what about the build up itself. In the last few weeks before Galway the session intensity increased, Mike put in a few of the (30EZ, 30 Tempo, 30EZ, 30 Tempo+) sets and one of the ‘put it in the highest gear and just go for it’ sessions on the bike, the runs got longer and the swims (when I could fit them in) were more pace focused. Finally a week out from the race and after a week in Chicago hammering the treadmill in the middle of the night I started tapering, and worrying about how to transport my bike on a plane. I eventually opted for the soft bike bag option, building a foam former to hold the crankset and BB housing in place and then using high density pipe lagging to protect the farm – I am glad to report it worked (see the pictures below).
After a great week of very little training (and finding somewhere to live for the next six months!) I flew out to Dublin on the Friday, checking my bike into the hold and taking all the important bits (bike shoes, pedals, running shoes and helmet with me in hand luggage. The flight was good and I was delighted to meet my bike off the plane very quickly at the other end. However, at that point, the day went downhill, I had booked my flight myself but everything else, transfers, hotel, etc through Nirvana Europe. My BA flight got in 10mins ahead of schedule however they had booked several of us on the same transport back from the airport to Galway (it is a 2+hr drive) and the others were coming with Ryanair – it was scheduled to arrive 5mins after my flight, but when I landed it had not even taken off! Steve, from Nirvana, bought me some water and a coffee and apologised a lot – eventually nearly 2hrs after we should have, we left Dublin for Galway. When we arrived on the west coast we checked into the Salthill Hotel, which I can recommend for this race – very well placed, just make sure you get a room at the front (as I did for the night before and after the race) as the room I had on arrival (at the back) was directly above the events room and as they have a lot of weddings there the noise level was awful. I built my bike (everything was fine), ordered a sandwich from room service and went to bed at midnight, the end of a long day.
The following morning I headed over to registration, or rather I was blown to registration as overnight a gale had hit the city, the wind was a steady 25mph and gusting up to 40mph….this was not in the plan. I registered, watch the race briefing PowerPoint presentation – without the worst bit of the build up as the race briefing always gives the race itself a bit of a “gee up” and a start point with all the athletes in the room – and headed back to the hotel to get my kit for the practice swim. This is the first time I have made a practice swim as I normally have family with me and the pre race day tends to be a register, rack and get away from it experience. So this was different. I was really glad to have made the practice as I have not swum in the sea properly since Galway last year, the conditions were absolutely awful, the waves were about 2m high (almost the height of last year’s ones) and as a result we were only allowed to swim about 200m out to a buoy and back – but it was enough to calm my nerves of sea swimming and get my head in the right place. I exited the water and went back to the hotel to fix all the new hole in my wetsuit (it is old!), organise my bags for transition and my bike.
Once I had sorted the blue (bike/T1) bag with all my kit for the swim to bike transition and my red one (T2) with all my bike to run kit I took the bike out for a quick spin to check my rebuild before racking it. As soon as I started riding I thought OMFG what have I done, I have brought HED3 trispoke wheels to one of the windiest places around! For the uneducated trispokes are wheel made almost entirely of carbon with a deep (50mm) rim and three big spokes, each about 40mm wide. They are phenomenally fast in most conditions but are hard to control in really high winds, think about being pushed across the road with each gust of wind….terrifying practice spin over I racked my bike, hung my bags in transition and collected my chip – I was ready to race.
I headed back to the hotel, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon (after a quick 15min run and a short swim in the hotel’s amazing 25m pool), gave Lizzie a call and watched a film. In the evening I did the BCTTT required thing and had the compulsory pre race meal fish and chips (with an optional pint of Guiness). I went to bed early hoping for a break in the weather…..
I woke up aground 5am and headed down to transition, as I left the hotel, I breathed a sight of relief – no wind – as forecast the storm had passed completely. I did my final check on my bike, dropped some of my kit back at the hotel and headed to the swim start.
The sea was calm and I watched the pros and the first wave leave from Black Rock just as the sun rose over the headland – magical. The course looked fairly different from the plan at registration, there seemed to be orange and yellow buoys (not just yellow ones…) oh well I guessed I would not be at front so I could ‘follow the herd’. The 35-39 and the 50-59 AG waves were mixed together, we were an eclectic bunch of about 200 heading into the water at 7:05am.
Once we had hung about for 15mins bobbing about near Black Rock the horn went and we were off! I had intentionally placed myself on the far left of the pack and to at the front – this paid off, I swam over a few people to get clear on the left side and headed for the first buoy. the water was pretty calm and the wave fronts were pushing us back towards the beach at a frequency of about ten strokes (ie one went over you every ten strokes) but they were not that strong. At the first buoy I avoided trouble swam in close and exited for the 1km swim, straight down the beach, keeping the yellow buoys on my left. This was easier said than done as the waves kept pushing you in towards shore, however the current/tide kept pulling you back as you tried to move forward – this maybe the reason for the relatively slow swim times (either that or the course was long). I got into my rhythm and just swam my own race, keeping pace with one chap to my left. We caught the back markers of the 7am wave about 300m from the turn buoy and chaos ensued as they were engulfed by the faster wave. I kept mostly out of the ruckus and just carried on swimming my own race towards the turn buoy (which I had worked out what the orange buoys were). I turned and immediately thought “where do I go now?” eventually after swimming toward the only buoy I could see (a yellow one) a helpful kayaker pointed me and the small group I was with in the right direction (the big red buoy) about 200m off to our left – a schoolboy error – it probably cost me around 2 mins in total. Eventually we turned the buoy and headed for the beach. Once out of the sea we headed on the long run (about 800m) to T1 – the transitions in Galway are long.
Into T1, I got my bearings grabbed my bag and headed for a chair to change –
Wetsuit off, quick dry of the feet with a towel (sand everywhere!), socks on, shoes on, race number on, helmet on, pack wet kit in bag, eat a haribo sweet (to take the salt taste away), Oakleys on and away!
The T1 was in a tent, to exit T1 you left the tent, went up some stairs, all the way round the outside of racking and then in to collect my bike, the Joule Aerotic – I found it first time, grabbed it and did the long 300m or so run to the out line. I jumped on and started cycling, but I could not engage my left cleat. I stopped a few hundred metres up the road to take all of the grass and mud out of my cleats, this sorted I thought, ‘right let’s get going!’ as I crested the first hill I hit a pothole and the velcro holding my toolkit let go, my X-lab toolkit bag sailed into the air and landed about 100m back – did i want to carry on and hope that i did not get a puncture? Nope i guessed that would be a bad idea! I I stopped and ran back to get it, fun in cleats! Toolkit reattached I headed off (subsequently I found these two events cost me nearly five minutes).
The bike itself was fairly uneventful – it is a rolling (500m climbing) course with a few short, steep climbs. It is an out and back which means you get to see everyone on the course – including the pros and they were flying! The bike just sang, I wound it up to an easy(ish) average of 31kph, and just started overtaking people I was blasting along, attacking on the hills, cruising down the descents – awesome fun, and all into a light headwind. I tried to keep the RPE around 12-16 throughout and the cadence natural. I spent most of my time playing tag with a couple other guys in my AG, a grumpy French guy called Marcel whom I passed over ten times (and vice versa) but not once did he respond to my ‘hello’, and another Brit with with a wierd name that I cannot remember. Throughout the race I had no power, HR or cadence (the power was usual, the HR intentional but the cadence unplanned).
The crowds were not as big as last year at either Moycullen or Oughterard however they still blew their vuvuzelas with enthusiasm and shook their cowbells with fervour. The turn around was at Maam Cross this year which was much better, After the turn the wind was with us and my average pace jumped to 32-33kph, with little effort, I shot back to town – everything felt fantastic!
On coming back into T2 I felt good the legs worked. I ran my bike in, dropped it at the racking and for the first time was ecstatic to see that there were LOTS of people not back off the bike! No time for that though, I ran into the T2 tent, grabbed my bag and got ready for the run:
Helmet off, bike jersey off, shoes off, change socks, running shoes on, turn number around, running visor on, different Oakleys on, repack bag and run out!
I headed down to the three lap course of 21.1km, heading past the finish just as the male pros finished – they were that fast – sub 4hours for the top few. The first couple of kms of the run are usually hell as the legs get used to running not riding, but I felt good and was turning in 5:44/km (above my anticipated pace), however it was not to last. Just after the aid station at 3km I turned into the headwind and all the energy drained out of my legs – I felt awful, really….truly….awful. I had to slow to a walk until the gel I had taken on in the aid station kicked in, even after this hit the blood stream I found it hard to run again, I had ‘blown up’ properly. For the next 15km I ran as fast as i could, developed cramp in both legs (localised in my quads which came on and off for the rest of the run) and walked the aid stations, after 9km I could not take on gels so I switched to coke/water and that kept me going – just! As I came back into Salthill for the last 2km I just upped the pace as much as I could….it hurt…a lot….I was up to 5:40/km at one point, and as I turned through the last aid station with 1km to go I could feel myself slowing, I knew sub 6hrs had slipped away and I just pushed the last 1km doing high 5s for the many kids who put their hands out.
As I turned that last corner and came down the finish chute I was quite emotional, I am again as I write this, I kept giving the crowd high f5s and as the only person in the finish chute I got quite a build up from the announcer, I crossed the line in 6:07 – I had missed my target of sub 6 by seven minutes but I had a new PB (Personal Best) by 28mins, I had swum my own race, ridden one of my best 90km TTs and run one of the most painful 21.1km ever – I was an IRONMAN 70.3 finisher again! 🙂
Will I go back and race Galway again? Probably not, like the UK 70.3, I have done it twice now and they both have their own challenges, but I want a new challenge next year. In summary, would I recommend it to someone? Yes and no…this is why:
It is a genuine M-dot race
Fast flat bike – one for the TT freaks (surprisingly challenging though)
(Apparently) Fast flat run
Good support on the bike and run
Hard sea swim
Sea swim can be VERY tough
Lots of drafting on the bike (as it is flat)
Run can be hard if it is windy
Support was less than last year – will next year be better?
Locals put all the prices up for the race (according to the hotel)
It is a long way to go without using Nirvana or another company like them
It felt as if the WTC has pulled money out of the event after last year – less M-dot buzz
So there you have it, my thoughts on the race and my experiences from it. I love racing, it is one of the reasons I do the training – the Type A personality in me coming out! I hope you have enjoyed it, if you have please click over to my justgiving page and support the charity I am raising money for. This year has not been a good year for fundraising which has been unfortunate as the charity I am supporting this year is a good one (A Smile for a Child). They support families with children who are very disabled and need help with adapting homes, buying mobility devices etc. One of my friends has a young daughter, Beatrice, who has Type II SMA, an incurable disease which causes wasting of the muscles that control the spine and as such she will probably never walk in addition, as her muscles controlling her lungs are affected too, she is prone to serious chest infections, one of which she only just survived earlier this year. Bea has been helped significantly by this charity and I wanted to help raise money to give something back.
I know it is one request amongst many but if you could spare the price of your next sandwich, glass of wine, cup of coffee I would be most grateful.
Please click over to http://www.justgiving.com/DoingGalwayforTeamBea and have a look.
Thanks for reading,