Monday, 13 October 2014

Ironman Barcelona 2014 Race Report

After our storm affected exploits at Ironman Couer D’Alene in June we were feeling a bit frustrated and decided to take on another 2014 race before the end of the season. It also gave us the opportunity to experiment with double peaking for 2 ‘A’ races in 4 months. We switched our training around for the 12 week block in the run up to the race with more shorter, faster sessions to replace the long endurance rides and runs. We also had a significantly reduced taper and kept training daily right up to the race. I liked it. 
Barcelona also tied in conveniently with our 10 year wedding anniversary (I guess we could have just gone out for dinner!) and gave us the opportunity to see family whilst getting the chance to nobble a race in the sunshine**

**Lesson # 1; Never make assumptions about the weather!!

We have raced BCN previously in its first year as a Challenge race and it would be interesting to see the difference in its inaugural year under the Ironman banner.

We were pretty rushed in the run up to our departure with one thing and another and didn’t really start packing until the day before we left resulting in a couple of check list failures including race nutrition, sunglasses and a Zipp disc wheel co2 adaptor amongst other things. All stuff that we could get at the Expo**

**Lesson # 2; Never assume that you can get what you need at the Expo!!

We arrived in Barcelona without any of our usual problems, other than being at the mercy of Air Canada Rouge and their cut every corner long haul flight experience. If you live in the Uk it is like flying with Ryanair but on a 9 hour flight. A one hour bus journey and we arrive in sunny Calella and check into our remarkably well located apartment overlooking the beach and the start/finish line. Result, as long as you are not offended by ants.

On Wednesday morning we excitedly headed down to the beach with our wetsuits and had a great 30 min sea swim – the conditions were perfect and calm. We exited the water, showered on the beach and headed to a nice little cafe for a couple of cafe con leches. Half way through the coffee I suddenly realised that we did not have our wetsuit bag with us. I remembered leaving it on the wall by the beach shower so Genevieve trotted off to get it. After 30 mins she was not back and I could feel my blood pressure rising. She returned empty handed – the bag was gone with both wetsuits in it. We trawled the beach, asked at bars and found the Ironman guy in charge at the registration tents hoping that someone had handed them in. His response – ‘’tough, welcome to Spain’’. What an A**hole.

Thursday am and feeling a bit down we went to register. I don’t know what was going on here but it was slow, impersonal, confusing, no one spoke English and Genevieve and I both received different instructions. I was supposed to get fast tracked through the AWA (All World Athlete) channel, but it took twice as long. 
We were hoping to rent or buy wetsuits at the Expo but to our dismay the Expo was tiny – literally only 8 to 10 small tents with very little choice. There was very little nutrition available and hardly any wetsuits. Genevieve eventually managed to rent a dodgy oversized Sailfish wetsuit and I had to wait until the Friday afternoon for another shop to get me an Aquaman wetsuit. I hate Aquaman wetsuits and I think this one was made from recycled Russian truck tyres. It was so inflexible I had to size up 2 sizes so I could get my arms over my head. Needless to say we were not looking forwards to the swim! On the plus side the weather was great and we got a great bike and run in followed by some relaxation and a nice evening meal. I also finally managed to get someone to inflate my disc wheel and bought an over priced adapter (of which there was one available) for my race day flat kit. 

Friday was the pasta party. Queuing for things was to become the theme for the week and it took us 45 minutes to get into the tent. Having paid 15 euros extra for Genevieves Mum it was a shock to find that there was NO vegetarian food available for either of them. They had a plate of plain pasta with no sauce and some salad. Not much carb-loading going on there!

Saturday was exciting as my sister Adele, Nicola and Tony joined our support team and we had a short sharp early swim in our luxurious wetsuits. My arms were tired after 10 mins! After a bit of final organising and race bag stuffing we headed down to transition for bike check in. We queued for well over an hour in the hot sun to do this. I have no idea why it took so long but it is a long time standing when all you should be doing is lying down.

I had been watching the race day weather forecast for a couple of weeks and it always said hot and sunny every day except Sunday. It had always said thunderstorms and still did. It was hard to believe this would materialise as even on Saturday evening it was still warm, clear, sunny and calm. Fingers crossed it would be ok**

**Lesson #3; Never assume the weather will be ok when the Freemans are in town.

It was not ok – we stood on the balcony at 6.00am watching the lightning hit the sea every minute in the dark, the thunder crashing and the rain hammering down. We couldn’t believe this was happening again. We had no choice but to start the 1 km walk to the separate transition area to check bikes, load up the nutrition and bottles and check race bags. The big transition tent was packed with drenched people and there were no lights – it was pitch black. We only found our bags by the light of other peoples iPhones. Nightmare. We did what we could and ran all the way back to the apartment, soaked to the bone and shivering.

The race was due to start at 8.30 and we waited as long as possible before heading to the beach, feeling pretty sure that the swim would be cancelled with all the lightning. I felt sick, cold and shaky – far from ideal. Then the announcement came – the full race was going ahead but there would be a 30 minute delay for the storm to pass. And pass it did. G was off at 9.08 after the Pros and I was off at 9.20. I stood on the beach and with a minute to go, with the sea lapping my toes, a calm came over me – I stopped shivering and focussed on what was to come.

And what came was probably the most violent swim start I have ever done! Punched, kicked, cap ripped off, people tugging at my ankle chip. I was doing that stupid water polo breathe every stroke thing until the first turn buoy then I got myself together and found some clear water. As is quite often the case – this was in a straight line from buoy to buoy. The swim was actually quite enjoyable and every few minutes I could see the clouds clearing and the sun start to peak through. The buoys had the distance written on them which I liked. I had to alter my stroke as I couldn’t bend my arms in my thick industrial diving suit but all was pretty quiet until about 2500m when we started catching the other groups then it just got crazy busy. So many people to get past and the last 200 m into the beach was so busy and with so many different coloured swim caps it looked like someone had emptied a packet of M&Ms into a washing machine. At some points I don’t even think I was in the water – just sliding along a road of neoprene on my belly. I exited, looked at my watch and it said nothing. Someone must have punched it and turned it off. Turns out it was 1.07 for the swim, a few minutes slower than planned. 
Genevieve had a somewhat worse experience – at about 2000m she passed a large Italian man who promptly grabbed her shoulder and pulled her backwards and he then deliberately grabbed her head and held her underwater. She was terrified and came up gasping for air and screaming. She shouted and screamed at a kayaker who ignored her and just stared. I can’t believe someone would do this to another competitor and she was pretty shaken and had to take several minutes to get over it. Not ideal at the start of your race.

Onto the bike and I felt pretty good – nice and steady through the small slippery and bumpy roads in the town but once onto the highway you can relax and start to push. The bike course is great – 2 big 76km laps and a smaller lap to finish. I felt good and was surprised to see my time at 1.02 at the first 39km turn around. I was hoping I hadn’t gone out too hard and eased back very slightly – didn’t want to ruin my run. The biggest issue on the bike – drafting. Huge packs of 40 – 60 guys were getting whistled at by the marshals but I saw very few penalties being dished out. Apparently 260+ people were DQ'd. Not enough. I also saw 4 nasty crashes right in front of me as people clipped wheels on the roundabouts. It was so busy at times with 2600 athletes on the course. If you were caught by a big pack you were in trouble. A couple of times I just had to sit up and eat and drift off the back of the group. Can’t believe people do this and get away with it.

We were rattling through the bike – I eventually caught Genevieve towards the end of the second lap and tried to hold my pace to the end. The last 4 km is back through the town – loads of turns, barriers, speed bumps and generally a bit frustrating as you feel your average pace dropping away. Into T2, a check of the watch showed 5.06 for the bike. Very pleased. Genevieve also had a good solid ride, averaging well over 33 kph and finishing in 5.24. We were both in and out of T2 in just over a minute and onto the run – my legs felt good and I immediately thought I was on for a good time. Quite the opposite of Idaho when I couldn’t even get off the bike despite spending most of the ride in the small chain ring!!

The run course is a 4 looper, half on the very narrow sandy trails in the crowds up to the finish line and the other half is a much quieter double out and back on paved boardwalk and town road. It was relatively quiet at the start but as each lap came around it got busier and busier and I had to swerve around a lot to get pass the masses. I don’t know why but the race nutrition for this race is Nutrisport. That meant no Coke on the run course…HORROR! There were smaller bottles of Nutrisport Red Cola which I can confirm is the most vile product in the history of sports drinks and also an ISO drink which wasn’t too bad. Ironman definitely skimped on the feed stations – they seemed to be a long way apart and with little product choice. There was also no ice which is normally good for sticking under your cap or cooling down your nether regions. It was great to see the Athelite Support Crew twice each lap – they were easy to pick out in their orange t-shirts and whistles.

I was a bit unsure of my total race time due to my garmin not starting and not being too sure what time my swim wave went off so I kept pushing it right until the end. I still wasn’t sure when I crossed the line and there was no timing printer at the finish as there usually would be. I had to wait till they printed out results and stuck them on the wall of the tent like some local 5k run. Anyway – I couldn’t believe it when I saw 9 hrs 48 mins, over the moon!! Genevieve crossed the line in 10.44, also very pleased with her time.

I had forgotten how competitive Ironman racing was in Europe. Last year I did 10.18 in Mont Tremblant and finished 17th in my age group. Here is Barcelona I went 9.48 and finished 63rd in my AG. 63rd!!!! Genevieve finished in 7th place – hoping for better position but again a super competitive field.

We had a great 10 days in Calella, it is a fantastic race venue and a great course. At times it was clear that the course is more suited to the numbers that the Challenge race was getting and not double the size with the IM. We also got the feeling that the volunteers were short in number and had not entirely bought into the event. The prize giving ceremony involved another 45 minute queue and another 15 euros for family members only to find the food was exactly the same again – cheese sandwich and an orange again for our veggie contingent. We then had to sit outside and couldn’t see anything on the screens or the stage! We felt there were a lot of things missing from this race – Ironman entry fees are not cheap and you should not feel like you are being skimped on. Hopefully they will work on these issues to enhance the race for next years competitors.

Fortunately for us we had a fantastic long week in the Spanish sun in a great apartment with family and friends and both got IM PB’s to boot!!