Ironman Vichy held great expectations for me, so this blog is particularly hard to write. Mainly as I still don’t really know how I feel about the event.
My minimum expectation was a finish time of 13 hrs 30 mins. Just over an hour off IM Austria. In the week leading up to Vichy this went to 13 hours and the wife predicted 12 hours 45 mins in the car on the way there. These times weren’t just plucked out of the air. Nine months of consistent training meant I knew were I was at for my swim, bike and run endurance.
But it didn’t go to plan. In fact it went badly wrong.
The swim was great. Plenty of space to swim in. A few bumps and bashes but that’s IM swimming. My first Australian exit, so I got a chance to check my time halfway through. Perfect 37 minutes. Second lap was just as good. All fine – and I thought I was on for a PB. Swim time was 1 hour 19 mins – 5 mins slower than Austria but I knew I was not as good a swimmer as last year – so that’s fine. It was still inside my worst prediction of 1 hr 20 mins.
T1 was OK and out on the bike. I was on the TT bike. I rode out of the park and on to the first of two laps. Mark’s instructions were to take the first lap easy so I did. I had my energy drink (2 x 750ml bottles), Torq bars and cliff shots taking something every 5 – 10 minutes.
It was hard going – almost always up hill and there was a head wind slowing me down. First lap 3 hrs 25 mins. That was slow. I wanted 3.10 but was happy to do 2 x 3 hrs 25 mins rather than a 3 hr 10 and then a 3 hrs 35 mins.
The second lap was hard. The heat was blazing down on me (turns out it was 97 degrees), the head wind was full on making it tough going, I had never ridden the TT bike for this long or in wind like this and I just couldn’t stay on the bars. So I was riding on the handles. My neck was aching and my shoulders were aching. So much so just looking behind me hurt. I had been stung on the stomach by something as well which initially hurt, but then itched.
But the bigger issue was my small finger, my ring finger and part of the palm of my hand, on both hands, were numb. This was from squeezing the handles so hard in the wind. In fact I still don’t have the feeling in these fingers back yet 48 hours later.
The ride was weird. There were riders on the side of the road lying in the shade, many were stopping at the feed stations and getting off and taking 5 mins out to fill up and chat to the helpers. I know this as people passed me a couple of times. They passed me, stopped at the feed station whereas I just grab bottles as I rode through, and they passed me again 15 mins later.
The ride time, when I finally finished was 7 hours 20 mins. So the second lap was 3 hrs 55 mins – 30 mins slower than the first lap. Disaster.
What was worse, was that I was completely spent. I went into transition with nothing. I got changed and stumbled out to the run. Within 1K I knew I was in trouble. I just had no energy – I was literally empty. A fast walk was hard going, yet alone running. I walked for the first 5 – 6K until Mark passed me. He asked what was up and I said I had nothing. He shouted back ‘drink coke, take salty biscuits and whatever you do don’t stop’ and he was gone.
So at the next feed station I took coke and had some Ritz type biscuits. I couldn’t run as I was full of coke but after another couple of K ‘s walking I started to feel better. So lap one (of four) I had walked. I was feeling better but I knew my finish time was shot to pieces. I was going to be slower than Austria, by some way and I knew I wouldn’t run a complete lap in the final 3 laps.
So why carry on was what I asked mysef. I could call it a day, have a shower, a meal and think about the future. I got into the turnaround chute at the end of Lap 1 and Sam and Clare were there shouting encouragement screaming at me to keep going and not give up.
Before I knew it I was on lap 2. I don’t remember deciding to carry on – I just decided not to give up.
Lap two was harder. I was trying to run (but still walking in a lot of places). The sun was still screaming down on me. There were loads of others walking, being sick, and many runners lying in the shade with tin foil blankets around them and medical staff.
I saw Lee from Tri Topia and others from Tri Topia and Lee run with me for a minute or so giving me encouragement.
Lap three, the sun had finally gone in and it was getting dusk. So it was probably 9 pm or something like that? There were a group of us all with two wristbands (so we were on our third lap) and we were trying to better each other. I run past them, then had to walk to recover and they run past me, then they walked and I run past them. All of us pushing each other on.
But the thoughts in my head were dark. Why do I do these events? Nine months of training and I am worse than I was a year ago. This is embarrassing. I am barely going to finish before the cut off. This just kept turning around in my head.
The last lap and it was pitch black in places. Ironically I was running more on lap four then I had in any of the other three laps. Not sure if this was that I had rehydrated or because it was nearly over! My neck was stiff to the point of pain, my shoulders had seized up. It was still hot and I had taken my hat off and I could feel where I was sun burnt – my neck, arms face. But I was running. And it felt good to be a) running and b) coming to the end of this nightmare of a day.
On the bridge for the last time my watch said 6 hours 25 mins for the marathon and there was about 1K to go, so I just run the rest of the run to the finish as fast as I could. The finish chute was a mass of noise, the music playing loudly, the crowds cheering the finishers ‘DARREN WEBB – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
But I didn’t feel like one as I crossed the line. 15 hours 24 minutes. Almost an hour slower than Austria. It had all gone so very wrong.
Initially I was just glad I finished. It was now 11pm. I had been ‘on the go’ since 7.30 am. I just wanted to get out of there and go back to the hotel and shower. Mark and Clare were there to the bitter end (as were Sam and Lee but I didn’t see them).
Mark helped me get my gear back and check the bike out and we left. As I was putting the bike in the car, the final finisher, before the cut off, finished and the fire works went off.
I just thought – What a disaster!
Ever since then I have found out a lot about the day itself.
The day was hot. It was 97 degrees at its peak but when I finished at 11pm it was still 80 degrees.
The wind on the bike was bad, it was head on wind for most of the course and it got worse as the day went on (so many had a worse lap two time versus lap one).
Many participants didn’t finish. Many dropped out on the bike but more didn’t start the run or dropped out on the early stages of the run.
The winner was 25 minutes slower than usual IM winning time (for a fast course such as Vichy).
Mark (finisher of 38 Ironman events and probably the most experienced IM athlete in the World) was 90 minutes slower than he thought he would be.
The energy drink at the feed stations on the bike was so watered down they were barely flavoured water. This is why people were stopping to drink more at the feed stations (I didn’t).
I chatted to a couple with Mark the next day. They guy was saying he walked the first lap of the run as he finished the bike with no energy due to the watered down drinks. There were no salt tablets or salty foods on the bike so triathletes were starting the run in a bad way. His wife had also struggled.
So I was never going to PB that day, for someone of my caliber, a finish was the best to hope for. Not due to one thing but due to all the ‘little’ things. Not being very aero on the bike so the wind was hitting me hard, not comfortable on the bike so not concentrating, the head on wind on the bike, the heat, not refueling as much as I should on the bike so I hit the run empty. Then not knowing how to refuel (until Mark passed me and told me). And not realizing I wasn’t doing as bad a job as I thought.
There are some big learning’s from that day. I need to do an event and see what time I finish in. Not go into an event with a pre-determined target to achieve, because as soon as I miss a target ‘it’s all over’. My targets are always over optimistic, they never take into account the course profile, the temperature or how I feel on the day. They are x amount of time off the previous time because I (believe) am I supposed to get quicker every time I race.
Nutrition isn’t about knowing how many bars to eat – it’s about knowing what to take, when and in what conditions to change that strategy.
It’s also about the overall time. ‘Losing’ time at the feed stations but starting the run in good shape is better than saving 10 minutes by whizzing through feed stations and walking the first 10K of the run (taking 35 minutes longer).
It doesn’t all end with one bad period. 2 laps of the swim, 2 laps on the bike and 4 laps on the run. If I walk the first lap of the run, I had a bad first 10K so an average finish overall. Not a bad first lap, so what’s the point in doing the event it has been a balls up.
The biggest learning is to remember to respect IM races and these distances.
As for what’s next – I don’t know. 48 hours ago I wasn’t ever doing another IM event. On the drive home yesterday that changed to not for a few years. If I am honest I didn’t enjoy the event. I don’t feel the sense of achievement I want to after all that training and build up.
I want to do more events I enjoy. I am getting the hang of 70.3 events now. Getting closer and closer to the sub 6 hours (current PB this year was 6 hrs 4 mins). I can do more of these a year than the one IM event per year. I did the Bewl Water Olympic distance and enjoyed that distance too. I am enjoying the training events more than the event I am training for.
So I think I want to race more at the 70.3 and Olympic distance races for next year. Keep the run and bike training high and leave the swimming to sort itself out.
Rayleigh 70.3, Weymouth Challenge half were always on the cards for 2016. Maybe Marlow 70.3 again, Bedford 70.3 again, the Cowman again, Bournemouth and/or Weymouth Olympic distance. Maybe even throw in a sprint distance or two?
Do stuff for a laugh with less pressure on myself than I have been putting on myself for the IM events. And then in a year or two see if another IM event is on the cards.
Finally a massive thankyou to my wife and number one supporter. For supporting me on the day and every day leading up to Vichy. Supporting an Ironman athlete is not a one day deal, they live the training with you and the highs and the lows with you. The holidays where you disappear on the bike for hours at a time, they wake to find an empty bed as you are training before the sun gets strong etc. 15 hours of analysis of what went wrong and what to do next in the car on the way home. I could go on but just to say Sam, thank you. x
Thanks for reading.