Tuesday 1 November 2016

The Big Day.

Arriving late Saturday night a week before the race was just about right for off-setting a bit of jet lag and acclimatising to the heat & humidity of this Hawaiian island. This week flies by as you unpack and get familiar with the lay of the beautiful land. Increasing my distance on the morning swims, tapering the afternoon runs and the odd recce of a bike ride takes care of most hours in the day. Attending certain events throughout the week like the Parade of Nations, the Underpants Run, Registration, Expos, Briefing/Banquets keeps you busy and before long I’m heading to bed at 21:30, hoping to get a few hours sleep on the eve of arguably the greatest Triathlon race in the world. Qualifying for the World Championships in Kona is a feat in itself. Only a very small percentage of triathletes will ever get this opportunity and be lucky enough to swim in these crystal clear seas, bike amid the infamous lava fields and run the scorching trail of the Queen ‘K’ highway, ok, fair enough the run I could live without  ;-)

This was to be my 5th Ironman distance race so I was used to the razzmatazz that goes with these big M-dot events but I’d never experienced anything like this before. I appreciate this is the World Championships so should be a good gig, but there’s something else, something unique and magical about this island.
I flew to Hawaii in probably the best shape I’d ever been in. I was injury free, I was lighter than in any of my previous races at 12 stone 3lbs, excluding of course the Egg & Spoon race of 79. After a very slow start to the year I was finally hitting some good form. 
Ironman Austria in July was the wake-up call. I found it very hard to get up for what seemed a poor man's ‘B’ race compared to Kona, which was my main focus and obviously much later in the year. This race did me a massive favour as I struggled in what should have been a potential PB race! Austria is a great event and I should have given it more respect. My half-hearted approach to training left me ill-prepared and fast course or not if you haven’t got yourself in decent nick then an Ironman will expose your shortcomings. I didn’t want a repeat performance at Kona and although most will say the kudos is in the actual qualifying for Kona, I still wanted to give it my best shot on race day.
As most of my training buddies season's had finished, the 100 mile bike rides and long runs were usually done solo or with my poor suffering son Aiden. This was just what the Kona doctor ordered and would hopefully stand me in good stead for the big day.  
So, I was full of confidence, right?......... Well I was, until we touched down!
I’m not sure what happened in that lead-up week to the race, it's unlike me, but my confidence took a massive hit. I put it down to a number of reasons.

#1, The obvious,... it was bloody hot! I've never run well in the heat. A few practice runs along Ali'i Drive with Aiden would have us being passed by the fittest looking people I'd ever seen, they must be Pros I'd say, surely? Typically the pace would start at 6:30 min/miles but within a mile that would increase to 7:00 and by 5 miles it was down to 8:00 min pace, Oh dear, and this was running fresh at 07:30 in the morning. All those long runs back in the UK at a calculated pace mean for nothing when it's as hot as this, I don't know how anybody trains for these extremes, treadmill in a sauna?  
#2, I knew the weather would be the biggest challenge but it’s not until you’re there that you realise how humid it is! So my plans for a sub 10 hour, were in serious doubt within minutes of touchdown.
#3. We all know I’m a little slack when it comes to swimming and despite knowing this was a non-wetsuit race I still hadn’t been able to string much more than 400 metres together in the pool. The river fared a bit better but I still hadn’t swum more than 25 minutes continuous, even with a wetsuit. My plan was to get 3 or 4 good swims in whilst I was there, sorted? In my first swim I just about made it to the coffee boat without losing interest. For those that don’t know there is a boat about 400 metres out where normally a Pro athlete will serve you a strong coffee or endurance drink et cetera. On my second swim I think I counted about half of the inflatable buoys as done yet the turnaround point still seemed so distant, so I binned it off again. I was determined on my 3rd swim to do the full 2.4 miles, I did it but still stopped at the coffee boat for a breather! What had I let myself in for? What should have been a straightforward swim and normally my bread and butter, was only serving as a reminder that I hadn’t been putting in the real swim graft and the sauna at the pool had been getting more attention.
#4, another contributor if you like was when I decided to recce part of the bike course. It began quite well as I rode down the Queen K highway passing the airport and into the lava fields..  except that is, for the obvious melting pot and the fact you can always see what must surely be a mirage of 5 mile of heat-hazed motorway, perfectly straight just lying in wait for you. You half expect to see a Rattle Snake slithering across the road before finding refuge from the sun within the empty eye socket of some long horned gazelle’s bare boned skull. 

I digress! As I say, the ride, (like this blog), at least began well ;-) The smooth road was helping me pootle along at a steady tap…………until, the wheels fell off! Not literally but that’s what it seemed. I was only 25 miles in and It seemed like I’d hit the proverbial wall?. I was going down hills but finding I was shifting down gears and contemplating the granny ring. I stopped on more than one occasion to give my bike a once over praying that my brakes were binding, no such luck. I knew the bike course was notorious for being incredibly windy but possibly due to the lifeless lava fields not having any swaying palm trees there wasn’t much indication of its presence. I guess back home the wind comes part and parcel with the blustery cold and goose pimpled arms but here it was 34 degrees??  Was it windy or was it me, it was all so easy to look at the negatives and to then remind myself I hadn’t had a decent bike ride (not counting Zwift) for a few weeks? It must be me.

I arrived back at the Condo a dejected, beaten man. 

Salts? Energy drinks? Nutrients? Electrolytes? That's all I seem to have heard about since being out here. What are these? I've always prided myself in being a little bit 'old school' when it comes to Ironman. Water and gels will suffice surely? let's not use a certain brand of gel, a lack of salts, an unripe banana, fizzy coke instead of flat coke, Gatorade instead of Powerade, yada yada as an excuse for a poor performance. Look, we're putting our bodies through the mill here. Eating sugary food, stooped over tri-bars whilst sat on JR Hartley's Yellow Paged predecessor's razor blade. Surely you're to expect the odd bit of discomfort? In the past I've always just grabbed anything going at the feed stations and chucked it down my neck, in fact I enjoy the surprise. Again, the nearer to race day, the more I looked toward the negatives!.. Why do I always ignore 95% of the pages in Tri220 that explain about salts and racing in the heat etc?! I was beginning to question my old school ethos and found myself searching the net in the hope to catch up on this world of nutrition. Wow, confidence really was low. Luckily for me I'd been keeping Clarky informed about all things Kona and without admitting my 'weakness' I gleaned some vital info on salts. Still, why was I choosing the half glass empty tipple? As I said, I was in the form of my life. 
Now's the time to introduce Dean who was enjoying his second visit (with his lovely wife Deb) to the Big Island and the Ironman World Champs.. Donny Dean Kirkham is the Real Fitness triathlon Coach & co organiser (along with Clarky) of the Mallorca training camps. Well he's not just a Coach but an absolute triathlon junkie and avid fan of the sport. I've met a lot of people since taking up triathlon but none share the enthusiasm of Dean. I'm always careful not to ask too much advice when it comes to races as firstly, despite being friends, I suppose, we're kind of rivals but secondly this guy normally gets paid for such nuggets of wisdom. Well, when I said there's something unique and magical about this race I sensed Dean felt it more than most. You can't stop this lad giving you tips and advice, his enthusiasm is contagious. I just see pound notes worth of advice rolling from his lips.. I swear I saw a tear during the motivational speeches at the banquet, such is his passion?
Deano ! A kid in a sweet shop.

Dean, like Clarky helped put my mind at rest with some good advice on salts. A long story short you may lose over a stone in weight during this race so start taking the energy drinks and salts to replenish the vital salts that the water, and sweat are flushing out. My archaic view on 'Adam's Ale' only during an Ironman was now being seriously rehashed. Although I claim not to get too involved with the science of triathlon I do believe in the old adage 'Never try anything new in a race that you haven't previously tested'. I was willing to ignore one of triathlon's golden rules, this island was giving me no choice. That, or else run the risk of crash and burn! 

Ok, sorry if it's taken a long time to give the excuses but you get the gist...I'm down on confidence. I think it's important that I paint the picture as with hindsight this was my way of preparing, in fact fearing what may lie ahead. I didn't want another poor performance like Austria. The magnitude of the race and these conditions if for some reason hadn't before, now had my utmost respect! Job done, almost. Simply put, I guess I'm just nervous.
So, back to 21:30 the night before the race and I'm having a quiet moment alone on the balcony before heading to bed. My mood and demeanour due to the confidence dip was obviously apparent to my family. I caught them whispering on the odd occasion and could see they were concerned at my state of my mind. Aiden would keep reminding me of how much training we'd both put in and that I was hitting form. I've since found out 'Team Grocock' including my Sister Faith and husband Paul were preparing for a Crisis meeting the following day if things were to go tits-up!
Angie, before heading to bed had already wished me well in more of a formal way than usual suggesting she hoped to raise my spirits. It was more than her usual 'Good luck duck'.
I was still hanging on her words whilst scoffing a few calorie laced cakes on the balcony when my Mum made an appearance in her nightie. Like Angie, she said some touching words that more or less translated to 'Look we're proud of you even if you do fail to hit your targets'. Had I been that bad or is this what all Mother's say to their kids? Either way I appreciated the sentiment and used these talks as another reason not to let them down. After these two visits on the balcony I half expected the ghost of Christmas future to tap on the patio doors in the guise of Aiden to give his team talk. Alas no, he was already in the land of nod. One more cake and it's bedtime for me.


The usual tried and tested match day brekkie for me was a little harder to replicate and came at a cost in Kona. A trip to Walmart had me spitting feathers due to the extortionate prices. Oats were about $5, dried fruit and nuts even more so, milk was over $5, loaf of bread $6, peanut butter $7 and jam something similar. Being English and my tightness would have me pick the items up, grumble and moan, then put them back on the shelf. Only to revisit them and sling them in the trolley in defeat as I knew I had no choice.
Paul and Faith, as reliable as ever were outside our Condo in the people carrier for 03:45. Again not sure if it was a 'Team Grocock confidence rebuilder' thing but the stereo was blasting out motivational speeches from Paul's IPhone. Another great touch guys, cheesy as, but I was having it.
My bike was racked the previous day so apart from pumping up tyres and attaching my bottles which had been in the freezer all night and were now blocks of ice there wasn't a lot of head scratching to do.
Orderly queues were formed for number transfers, sun tan lotion and Vaseline application and of course the Portaloos which despite being the World Champs were still... for want of a better word... 'Minging'!
I entered the water about 5 minutes before kick off which for the Age-Group men was 06:55. At this point it dawned on me that I hadn't really asked anybody with experience where the best place to start was. Normally I would plonk myself right at the very front but.., most times I would be able to defend this position. This obviously wasn't to be the case here. There are swimmers, and there are swimmers, and I know which one I am. I settled for about 4 places back on the right and almost upon the boo'wees (buoys) figuring those chaps to the left would have a little further to swim. 

This was it, my whole year had come down to this moment. There was a strange silence moments before the canon sounded. The noise of the rotor from the circling NBC helicopter seemed to fade as thousands of athletes treading water took that last sigh, checked their goggles for the last time and then waited nervously with finger poised over their watches. I nodded to myself and although I can't remember what I said I gave myself some words of encouragement maybe something like 'Come on then, let's have this'.
A lot of the photos I'd seen of the swim looked beautiful and it didn't disappoint. There really are turtles swimming below you, the water is crystal clear and the fish are plentiful. But what the pictures don't show is the panic etched on the athletes faces as they're fighting for a clean gulp of air that doesn't include somebody's foot or elbow in it.

I'd previously bumped into local athlete Dave Green who was visiting Kona for the second year in succession in the bid to put his demons from his 2015 swim to bed. Dave is a class athlete securing his Kona qualification with a 12th place overall (including the pros) at IMUK this year. Dave was brutally honest in his account of his first venture at the world Champs and said that initial swim/bunfight experience had had a detrimental affect to how his race panned out, something he never banked on. Dave wisely learnt from his mistakes as this year he knocked 15 minutes off his swim time and finished in an excellent overall time of 9:43. Again, this info all added to the fear factor so the swim had certainly got my respect.
Once the cannon fired the water came alive with frenzied athletes fighting for space. This normally lasts 100-200  metres or so but I had the feeling it would be a long time before things improved. Everyone was of a similar standard, fast or super fast. Numerous times I attempted a breastroke kick to allow the guy I'd been synchronized swimming with to get out of my space but this only invited more problems as several more bodies clambered over you as you created a log jam. 
Swim Recce.

 Positioning myself to the right and taking the straightest line to the buoy seemed like the obvious route choice. What I hadn’t banked on was the fact that every equi-spaced distance marker would trigger another feeding frenzy of swimmers slicing diagonally from the left trying to swim as the crow flies, if that makes sense?  It was time to get tough and accept that this is how it is, no one is going to give you a free passage. I managed to find a guy to the left of me of similar speed who breathed to the right, I breathe to the left. We mimicked each other’s stroke and it seemed easier as a pair than individually. If there was ever a silver lining to this carnage it was that I was too busy trying to stay alive and hadn’t had time to dwell on my lack of swim miles. Because sighting was pointless I was unaware of the distance covered and couldn’t believe it when we hit the turnaround buoy. Wow, where did the time go? Things were starting to settle down at this point and small groups were forming. You found that every now and then you could jump on a faster swimmers feet if he hadn’t already got a mate attached to him that was unwilling to give up his spot. I have to say, due to the clear water allowing you to judge just centimetres behind toes without risking any contact, this was the first time I’d really felt the benefit of drafting a fellow swimmer. This more relaxed group swim served as an ideal opportunity to have a tiddle, twice in fact. This may sound gross to anybody that hasn’t done an Ironman but it’s inevitable during the day that nature will call. So two wees during the swim put’s me ahead of the game with no time penalty.
Once in a rhythm I would keep reminding myself how lucky I was to be swimming in such splendour among shoals of brightly coloured fish. So In some ways it was sad to exit by the stairs and be back onto dry land. It sort of indicated (although nowhere near in time) that, that was a third of the race done already. It’s strange but this feeling came to me several times throughout the day and I’m positive it helped me stay strong. In some ways I couldn’t wait to get it all over with and down a few beers. But then I also wanted to savour the moment because once done, I may never get the chance to race here again.

A quick glance at the Garmin and I saw 59:57 before clumsily hitting stop. The timing mats had me a little slower than that at 1:00:07. Either way I was chuffed with that, It was probably my slowest IM swim but this was the first time I’d done one without a wetsuit so couldn’t really compare it with anything other than Clarky and Luke Mathews’ swim from previous years, I was on track.

T1 was like a well-oiled production line of athletes and helpers. This is another big difference between the standard Ironman events and the World champs. You get a personal helper pampering you, smothering you in sun cream whilst you’re wrestling with a sock and sucking on a gel. 4:45 in T1 wasn’t speedy by any means but I’ve been slower in the past, now, where did I leave my bike?

Having my shoes attached to the bike would have been a good idea if I hadn’t attempted to place my feet in the shoe so early. The laggy band snapped and the shoe dropped as I approached the short climb up Palani. This was the only part of the bike ride that my family managed to record on video and there I am getting overtaken by dozens of riders as I’m fumbling to rescue my shoe. Don’t think my Mum was too impressed as she reminded me on more than one occasion the following week…’Did you have something wrong with your bike when you passed us?’ ...Yes, mother.

The first 8 mile of the route has you parading around town. Your loved ones don't see you again for another 104 miles. This heavily populated out and back must be a draft exclusion zone as there are hundreds of cyclists sharing the road and it's impossible not to get within metres of the other riders as they're jostling for position. This also gives you a chance to see how many people are in front of you, but equally how many are behind. 

I’m not going to lie, the next part of the bike course despite being on such a beautiful island is somewhat featureless to say the least. The Queen K highway is the main road in Kona and stretches up to the North of the island through the lava fields. The Lava fields are a little depressing, they’re black and resemble a Sci fi movie set on Mars. The road is scant of landmarks so you can literally see tens of miles of lifeless volcanic expanse. Every so often a goat (or donkey according to the warning signs) will catch your eye. What they eat out here beats me? There is the odd miracle of life in the shape of a flowery shrub or twisted tree. This was the subject of 6 times world champion Mark Allen’s motivational speech at the banquet before the race.
The Lava fields.
Mark explained how he finally beat his rival Dave Scott a 6 time World champ in what’s now become Ironman folklore and famously known as the Iron War. Despite many previous attempts Mark could never land the most illustrious prize in triathlon. Until that is, he spent time chillin with native Indians, crossed legged passing the hash pipe (well that’s how I interpreted it). Basically, he accepted that the spirit of the island had to be respected. It was no good going there with a game plan of what you were going to do, what splits you were going to achieve because the island wouldn’t let you dictate how you were going to race. This sounded like a lot of mumbo-jumbo to me at the time but after the race it made perfect sense. A hell of a lot better athletes than me have got it wrong and fallen victim to the island. Whether it just made for a good story, and it's inclusion has been added over the years or not, who knows? But Mark, whilst running shoulder to shoulder with the great Dave Scott for more than 24 miles of the marathon would occasionally steal a glance at his rivals face. At every glance Dave was as cool as a cucumber, showing no signs of fatigue. All this did was put Mark in more doubt until he realised that rather than look left toward his nemesis if he looked right at the lava fields he would catch sight of the occasional flower that had somehow, against all the odds, rooted itself and found a way to thrive . Well, the rest is history……… Mark got annilhated that day, ragged it all in and now runs a florists in Kona, I think that’s what he said? I missed the end, I went to toilet ;-) I joke of course. The rest is Ironman folklore and Mark finally realised his dream that day and went on to win Kona a further 5 times.

If it worked for Mark Allen then I was having it. I spent a lot of those miles on the Queen K looking for little flowers.
The Queen K Highway

The Queen K isn’t hilly-hilly by any stretch but this road must be from where the basis of the word ‘undulating’ originated to get its dictionary definition. There’s many a mile spent going slightly up, or slightly down. As, has been the general theme to this story I’d already heard about and experienced the strength of the winds. So my fear was blowing up with 30 mile to go. Again the fear factor, expect the worst and anything less is a bonus.

Before going, Clarky had instilled in me to take fluids at every feed station. Until getting to the island I assumed he meant on the run and not the bike aswell. Surely I shouldn’t be slowing down grabbing a drink every 15 minutes? I rarely drink more than a 750 ml bottle in a hundred mile ride back home (unless on Zwift)? But Dean confirmed it, ‘Miss a feed station at your peril’, was his slogan. I wasn’t comfortable with this for a start and ignored the first station but my water had already become lukewarm and not pleasant to drink. I never missed one after this and although you have to take a hit on your average speed as you grab (and drop) 2 water bottles and a Gatorade it pays you back tenfold in keeping cool. The first bottle you drink while it's cool and also replenish your front bottle. The 2nd bottle goes down your neck or back. Toward the end I had a eureka moment and realised the bottle nozzle would just fit in my helmet vent. The cool water giving temporary relief for my baking bonce, why didn’t I think of that earlier?

The wind really was taking prisoners, one minute you’d get passed by someone as if you were stood still and then 10 mile up the road they'd blown up and was crawling along. This pattern would repeat itself again and again. I hit the halfway point at about 2:30 so I knew then that the island wasn’t giving us one of it's quickest days. Clarky and Robbie had gone a good 10 minutes quicker by halfway when they did it. Not to worry, compared to most I was going well and the longer it went on the more the people were falling by the wayside; which was a good indication that I was making the best of a bad job. Like in the swim, I was finding myself thinking, bugger, this Kona dream of mine is almost over. I had to remind myself I was in a race and the idea was to finish as quickly as possible, no time for sight-seeing.

For those that like to know the finer details I ate every 30 mins which apart from my scrumptious cheese, salami & tomato wrap (which had been baking in my back pocket at 40 degrees for the last 2.5 hours), I grabbed anything they offered, bananas, Cliff bars and gels, some jelly block things were nice too. And of course another natural break was successfully done on the bike much to the amusement of the peeps behind. I managed to stop my Garmin at exactly 112 mile before handing my bike over to my helper and noting the 5 hrs 5 minutes and an average of 22mph. Once again, this was my slowest Ironman bike time but I got that feeling that 5:05 here today in these conditions was worth a lot more than 4:40 (24 mph) in Barcelona at qualifying. The swim too, a 57 min in Barca with a wetsuit wasn’t as good as today’s 60 minute effort without one. I was going well and I was still feeling strong, forget the times ……. Remember,
 respect the island, you can’t beat it if it won’t let you. (Maybe it wasn’t mumbo-jumbo?)..

The atmosphere of T2 was almost unrecognisable from the first transition which was frantic with people bumping into each other, fighting for seats on benches all champing at the bit to start racing. T2 was a lot more sedate, a lot more polite. At this juncture, the 26.2 mile run in this heat and humidity had lost its appeal somewhat. We were hardly like kids sprinting up the lane to the tune of Mr Whippy’s ice-cream van as we exited T2. Orderly queues were formed, massages being administered, lotions being applied. ‘After you kind Sir’, ‘I wouldn’t dream of it’, you were here first’,’ No, but I insist’. 4 cups of water later and ice under the cap I finally left T2. I have to admit, I lost precious time here that would ultimately cost me. But I can live with that.

The Run.

Now riding up a lifeless motorway for 112 miles can be pretty soul destroying so the ‘Think Tank’ at M-dot freshened things up a little. You run up Palini hill before turning right toward Ali’i Drive for almost 10 miles before then heading back onto the Queen K and running a further 16 miles…. along the same lifeless motorway, (excluding the infamous Energy Lab but i'll come back to that).

The legs grumbled for a mile or two but they weren’t too bad, they’ve been a lot worse in previous events. I managed to spot Angie, Aiden and my Mum and gave them a kiss. (Not Aiden, that would have been a firm handshake if it wasn’t for the fact he was filming me). I also spotted Dean’s wife Deb too. This was a great morale booster as the bike ride was quite a lonely existence and despite Faith and Paul’s best efforts driving up and positioning themselves on the bike route I’d failed to spot them. Whoops, sorry.

I think the quick kiss with Ange worked both ways as this was the first time I’ve ever done this in a race before so I think I gave the impression that I was in a good place. A happy competitor makes for a happy support crew. If I’m honest and all things considered I wasn’t on death’s door, the heat hadn’t taken hold just yet. ‘Miss a Feed station at your Peril’. There was nothing more natural now and I didn’t need telling. Every mile and half at the feed stations it was like a conveyor belt where you’d grab the same things each time. Your pace took a serious hit as you grabbed 2 sponges, 2 waters, ice in the hat, Gatorade, Coke, (I didn’t bother with red bull), ice down the front of my top and then two more waters to be running with. Repeat about 15 times.

Ali’i Drive kept my mind occupied as the spectators spotted my name on my number belt and addressed me personally, me and the other 2300 competitors. Some locals would kindly dowse you with their hose pipes. This out and back section also gave you the opportunity to see the pros running in the opposite direction.

I knew once I’d hit the 5 mile turnaround point I could then keep an eye out for anybody else that I knew that was racing. A glance at my watch, and I’m counting to see how much of a lead I had , if any? Kev Dawson is my age category, fairly local to me and a cycling legend. I’ve raced Kev a few times now and it normally follows the same pattern. I get a lead on the swim only for him to peg me back on the bike. I’ve never raced Kev in an Ironman before but I fully expected the ex British multi- national TT champion to fly past me somewhere around the 80 mile mark on the Queen K. I couldn’t recall him passing me on the bike so could only assume he’d found the swim even worse than most. Even so, he couldn’t be far behind and I would have to run strong to fend him off. To my surprise, Dean was the first person I saw, I did the maths and reckoned I had a lead of about 16 minutes. Now Dean can run a 3:15 marathon comfortably in an Ironman, this is his forte. He’s a good minute a mile quicker than me. With some further number crunching I sussed that with approximately 19 miles to go, unless I suddenly become a ‘proper’ runner then Dean would be coming past me toward the tail end of the run, barring no calamities. This wasn’t a problem to me, Dean’s a class act. It was more important that I stuck to my own pace and game plan rather than risk blowing up big time trying to fend off Dean. 19 miles in this heat & humidity was still an unknown to me and we still had the dreaded ‘Energy Lab’ to look forward to.

The Energy Lab has the reputation of being the hardest and hottest part of the run. This landmark is infamous for reducing the very best of the pro athletes to quivering wrecks. This is where so many dreams are shattered! I deliberately didn’t want to visit it before the race, once would be enough. A chance meeting with Joe Duckworth at the Parade of Nations was all I needed to know about the ‘Energy Lab’. I’d never met Joe before but had heard of him through Clarky who’s a fellow Fireman. Joe (also my age-group) was another one of these annoyingly good,  2hr 50 min marathon runners and posted a 3:16 run in his last visit to Kona. So when you hear an elite runner like Joe describing the Energy Lab as hell and the worst 4 miles of his life then you can see why I had neither the intention or the talent to run out of my comfort zone in the bid to keep Dean at bay.

I managed to clock Kev on Ali’i Drive a few minutes behind Dean. It was clear by his body language he wasn’t enjoying things. Like many others, Kev had issues, which when finished,  resulted in a visit to the Medical tent to be put on a saline drip. Losing 20lbs in weight during the race proved how tough Kev was having it but was also a testament to his steely character for seeing it through.

‘Hot corner’ was my last contact with Ange, Mum and Deb before stepping back onto the Queen K. Again this was another morale booster their screams of encouragement following me up Palani hill. Out of sight, I was reduced to a brief walk up the hill, I wasn’t concerned because with big strides there wasn’t much difference in speed but the energy saving was noticeable. Aiden ran and joined me on the Queen K for a few metres whilst filming, he must have been worried at me walking up the hill. We had a chat and he gave me a great confidence boost, saying I was looking strong? I’ve since seen the video that he was filming (at this particular point) and I’m now worried that my son is a downright liar. If the Queen K was bad on the bike it’s worse on the run. You know you have about 10K to run before hitting the ‘Energy Lab’ but you don’t want to be reminded how far 10 K is. Unfortunately you can see a trail of runners as far as the eye can see in the heat-hazed distance. A mirage?

My pace was slowing to about 8:30 min/miles by now and I was running from feed station to feed station in a trance. After missing them on the bike Faith and Paul weren’t going to let me plod on by again without letting themselves known. It was great seeing these two as there were very few other supporters on the Queen K so I enjoyed the attention and would also use them as something else to look forward to on the return leg, the smallest of things eh. Joe had done a great job in describing the Energy Lab as it gave me the heebie-jeebies. I was prepared to be walking through this eternal inferno of hell fire. Yet again, expect the worst and then anything other is a bonus. Luckily today, the Energy Lab was no different to the rest of the course and the temperature didn’t suddenly boil like I’d anticipated. I had however noticed that Dean was now only 2 minutes back. Back on the Queen K for the remaining 10 K and I passed Faith and Paul for the last time. I was aware that I was slowing massively now and dipping into the 9 minute mile pace.

With a tap on the shoulder, a warm man-hug and some encouraging words, Dean flew past as I predicted at the (almost), 22 mile stage. I could take satisfaction from the fact there was nothing wrong with my maths, shame I couldn’t say the same about my running. I kept Dean within sight for a mile or so but then it took hold, I was starting to blow! I decided to sneak a peek at my watch to see if the sub 10 hr was still on. With now less than 3 miles to go it was too much of an ask. I was praying this was one of those courses that was at least 400 metres short. (It wasn’t! 26.19 miles my Garmin displayed on completion, the rotten buggers)! My pace was slowing all the time and I knew I had to increase my pace by 45 secs a mile to stand any chance of making it. My 3hr 45 mins wasn't quite enough for the Sub 10 but in those conditions I would have taken that any day of the week.

The finish chute was a bit of a blur. I looked behind me to make sure I wasn’t going to have to get involved in a sprint finish with anyone. I could hear shouts from the family but couldn’t pinpoint where they were coming from. Mike Reilly announced my name but I still didn’t get into any heavy celebrations like some do. I was just relieved to get over the finish line and although I was initially disappointed with missing out on a sub 10 hours by a mere 99 seconds I’ve later realised that this was probably my best ever performance.

I was having a dip in the sea trying to cool down when I noticed Dean approaching. Like me, Dean has been a lot faster in these IM events but boy had we had to work for these results. 9 hours 56 minutes under those conditions would see Dean more than happy, not a Kona PB but a strong performance.

We swapped stories whilst scoffing pizza and were soon back on our feet to join the girls. Over the road to Quinns bar for a few beers we celebrated with family before heading back to the promenade to cheer in some of the later finishers.

What a day. What a place. What a Race.

With the race complete it meant we could now enjoy another week on this beautiful island ‘on holiday’. It’s not that the first week for me wasn’t like a holiday but with the pending race and having to watch your weight, having to decline on the beers and naughty food is hard going. Needless to say I made up for it the second week. The more I analysed the race and results the more it dawned on me how proud I should be. Missing the sub 10 hour by a minute and a half was excusable under the conditions. This was the Ironman World Championships for god sake and I’d finished in the top 15% of my age-group and 3rd British athlete, how can I not be happy with that. If I never achieve anything else in sport again I’ll always be able to say that I 'raced' at Kona.
Team Grocock. Aiden, Mum, Ange, Faith & Paul.

Thank you to all those that sent kind messages on Facebook etc. Reading these when you’re thousands of miles away is very humbling. I do apologise for not being able to reply to everybody but please believe me when I say it’s appreciated. Post-race you start thinking of all those people that have helped and contributed to getting you here in fine fettle. Thanks start with the guys at IPC who helped me out with shift swaps. Such is the Kona qualifying process, that asking them to work for me when they knew I’d already paid my money to do the race was awkward. The people at my club Lincsquad and training partners that have either helped sessions seem easier for their company or made them seem harder by smashing me, I’ve benefitted from both type. Thanks to my mate Stenno for the loan of his Zipp wheels. BRITCON LTD for helping financially by getting behind me and other local athletes from OTCF RT. Seeing as none of us work for BRITCON this altruistic gesture is appreciated even more so. North Lincolnshire Council deserve a mention as they also help subsidise athletes at these events.. I understand that not every County/district offer such. Steve Clark at Off That Couch Fitness for all the advice on multi-sport but mainly your friendship over the years helping me achieve my dream. The Support Crew, Faith and Paul for all the help throughout the week with chauffeuring and photographs as well as cheering and poster making. Deb and Dean for being such great company throughout the week, enjoyed our nights out and your advice was priceless. My Mum, for being my Mum and constantly offering to do things for us. It was great to have you with us and thanks for the conversations and laughs. Big thanks to my mate (& son) Aiden. Not just for your friendly face during the fortnight but for all those long runs and 100 mile rides that you didn’t need to do. I guess it’s not every teenage kids idea of a good time having to ‘Chain-gang’ with their Dad for 100 milers with little more than a few words spoken in 5 or more hours of riding. Thanks for the video too mate.

I don’t think I’ve missed anybody?

Ooh, I am funny?!!! The biggest thanks go to my darling Wife Angie who has supported or at least tolerated me and this Ironman obsession for years. I would certainly never have qualified and raced in Kona without your support and understanding. It can’t be easy for you coming home from work to find out your husband and son haven’t lifted a finger around the house all day because they’ve cycled to Whitby, yet they’re quite happy to start stripping bikes down all over the kitchen. Thank you Duck, love you so much xx.

Highlights video here



Sunday 2 October 2016

With 19 hours to kill on the flights and 2 films already viewed boredom has made me reach for the IPad. 

Nothing much of note has happened since my last post but I remain injury free so I feel pleased that I haven't pushed too hard to have then regretted some of the eleventh hour longer sessions. 
It was Aiden's turn last weekend at the Brigg Sprint and some late season form saw him pick up second place, including a trophy for the fastest bike leg. His 17:19 (5k) run was no match for overall winner Nick Martin's low 16 min run!
This last week seems to have shot by probably due to trying to maintain some kind of training and also the last minute organising. The training has included a few more rides with a tough 4 hrs on Zwift with a personal record of 6 x 750 ml of water being quaffed. 
A 17 mile run at 7:29 pace and then a further double figure run at a slightly better 7:11 min/pace was pleasing but a measly few half hearted lengths in the pool really needs upping. 
My weight reached an all time (Tri) low of 12 stone 3lbs at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately that has since elevated as training has had to take a back seat to the 'Holiday jobs to do list'. You know, that A4 list of jobs that you take great satisfaction in striking a line through when you tick off that particular chore (usually that the missus has left you).  Is it just me or does anybody else find themselves adding  more jobs underneath if you've done something above and beyond the original job scope only for you to then strike a line through it immediately? Maybe just me?
Taking a backseat (literally) on the plane for the best part of a day also doesn't help to maintain your race weight. The Devil makes work for idle thumbs and scoffing seems to be my preferred pastime for killing the time. It's amazing how the mind works. You only need a few slack days off the training & nutrition regimen and you think you've lost it!
Coincidentally, I suppose,  but also taking a back seat is Kev Dawson's familiar face. Obviously I knew Kev was going to Kona but of all the flights and of all the seats on those planes, ....he's sat next to me?
Big thanks to my mate Stenno for loaning me his Zipp 404 clinchers. Due to the mythical winds on the island Disc wheels aren't allowed. This forced me to rethink my wheel set up and although I've never had a flat in an Ironman with my tubs I thought it prudent to go with the old fashioned inner-tube combination. My goal, above all else is to be able to say I've raced and finished Kona. I've never been entirely confident in the past carrying a spare tub, with a couple of different valve extenders/CO2 inflators and that out of date Vitoria Pitstop stuff. Hopefully, back to basics, albeit it at a slight speed handicap will give me a better chance of getting back in the game if something does go awry. The same cant be said for tubs. 

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Every 3 Years?

It seems I feel the need to write a blog every 3 years? This being the latest ramblings in an Ironman trilogy. In fact it's not really a blog, but a diary. Just some scribbles and memories I can look back on. For some reason it encourages me to train that little bit more? Odd, I know, because as the title of this blog would suggest there shouldn't be any need for finding a reason to train!
Despite being a trilogy I managed to complete two more Ironman events since 'Roth 2013'.
IM Barcelona 2015 and another trip to Klagenfurt for IM Austria earlier this summer. At the former I had the good fortune to qualify for what a lot of  Age Group athletes consider the greatest show on earth. Something I would never have dreamt of when writing that first blog in 2010. 
I didn't write blogs on here for those two events (just as well as this wouldn't be a trilogy but a pentolgy/quintolgy? Had to google that but basically I'm thinking Rocky V). I did however do some race reports for Clarky & Off That Couch Fitness that can be found below.
In a nutshell Barcelona was my perfect race and I surprisingly managed to qualify in the 45-49 cat in a time of 9 hours 34 minutes. Road to Hawaii
Austria on the other hand didn't go so well, maybe my memories from 6 years previous were somewhat clouded? I strolled home in a time of 9 hrs 51 minutes, by no means a disaster but deserved a lot more effort on my part. Ironman Austria 2016
YouTube video Ironman Austria video

The Big Island beckons. Angie and I celebrating the news at Barcelona.

So for the third time in 6 years I'll be capturing, in diary form, the run up to my Ironman and of course race day. I'll start with a quick recap of the last year and how Kona has shaped the year.

Saturday 17 September 2016

Season Summary

At present there are 5 days to go before the Sundowner Half Ironman. I entered this event for a number of reasons but primarily it should be a great build up for Kona and will still allow sufficient recovery time. There are over a dozen fellow Lincsquadders doing it and as I did it last year it should be a decent indicator of form.

Before starting this blog for real, I’ll just give a brief recap of the 2016 season so far.

January started as it normally does following the same old pattern of previous years. Qualifying for the World Champs unfortunately hasn’t turned me into one of those there disciplined types of athlete, in fact the opposite. As October seemed a millennia away  it was a case of making the most of it now before having to knuckle down to the real hard work. As I’ve mentioned in previous logs I’ve only got a certain timeframe or ‘window of enthusiasm’ for training. Once exceeded, my love for triathlon wanes somewhat.

So, the winter started slow. Rides were few and far between. I’d study the weather forecasts and any hint of rain and I’d just bin it off, probably to then regret it later when the rain didn’t materialise. On the plus side I found myself catching up on a bit of decorating.
I suppose finding Zwift was my early season saviour. I found it so convenient to jump on the turbo for an hour and ride in this virtual world against other riders from around the world. Previous to this I never enjoyed turbo sessions, I found myself sticking on films and just spinning my legs for no real benefit but to clock up a few hours. Zwift is different, it brings out your competitive side and I can honestly say I was getting more out of one hour Zwifting than I would a 2-3 hour ride in the cold (including coffee stop). Sweat would pour off me and on more than one occasion, with the workout complete, I’d immediately projectile vomit as  my stomach continued to retch, not pretty! My Zwift experience was elevated to a whole new level when I bought the Neo-Tacx smart trainer. I’d find myself out of my saddle climbing these imaginary 17% gradient  mountains as the turbo resistance increased. Smart trainers, extremely smart!

Unfortunately the TT season never really got going this year. The Lincsquad series was cancelled due to roadworks. I didn’t get to do any at Barton this year leaving just the odd one or two at Gainsborough and I punctured at one of them. Although I did manage to set a new 25 mile TT record on the Gainsborough circuit.

In April, Aiden and I attended the OTCF/Real fitness Tri-Camp in Majorca. As usual this was a great week for fast tracking your training, lots of bike miles up lots of long hills. Again seeing as my ‘A’ race was so far away there was a lot more beer consumed than you’d expect from a triathletes’ training camp. I blame my roommates Dobber and Big Swede, they would possibly blame me?

Mallorca Tri camp
Mid-year I entered two 100 mile Sportives just prior to IM Austria. Matt Porter of Sportive HQ has allowed us to use TT bikes at these events now so getting several hours in the TT position was an opportunity not to be missed. I know these aren’t to be taken too seriously but it’s always a confidence booster posting the fastest times.
The Lincolnshire Edge 'Sprint' was a fortnight after my Ironman Austria. As I'd got a free entry I couldn't resist signing up for the shorter distance to race my son Aiden. I wouldn't normally fancy my chances against him if it was a 400m pool swim but a 750m open water swim tilts the balance back in my favour. 2nd out of the water and up to first place after the bike it was a case of running for dear life to the turnaround point and then counting the minutes before we passed. Aiden's quite capable of a low 17 minute 5k, almost 3 minutes quicker than me!! Aiden was indeed the next athlete I saw but fortunately for me I'd got a big enough cushion and with it the win.
This was a proud moment having my son with me on the podium. The magazine Tri220 got in touch with FastFWD Events and they did an interview with me and as a result featured in their mag. 

This last weekend was the Sundowner Half Ironman. I did this race last year & managed 5th place overall winning my age group. This year I only managed 6th place with Kev Dawson (also going to Kona) relegating me into second place in our age-group. It wasn't all bad news as I was a couple of minutes quicker this time around (4 hr 31 min)which could have been more if not for some terrible transitions due to my cold hands not being able to open the helmet strap. The weather was lousy! It started raining before the swim and didn't relent all race! My bike and swim were quicker this time and the run almost identical to the previous year. Aiden had a close Sprint race in the morning getting second overall by just 9 seconds, not bad seeing as he was a minute and a half behind after the swim. A good night troughing hog roast and drinking beer with fellow Squadders capped off a decent weekend.