Dan “Ever since I took part in my first triathlon back 2010 at Blenheim, it had never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t complete the race even in the most darkest of times during the run. That was until November last year.
It was the first ever half Ironman distance in Dubai and Dad had flown over to race even though deep down we both new he would never complete it. This was solely due to the fact he had about 6 degrees of movement in his hip before the involuntary electric shock manuovere was activated. If you spent any time with him towards the end of last year you will know what I am talking about. It’s funny now but at the time it definitely wasn’t.
With that taking up most of the conversation prior to the race, never did I once think that I could also be in danger of not completing it. To be honest, I wasn’t confident in having a great day as I hadn’t put in enough hours, but having raced in Mallorca earlier this year and leaving a bit disappointed, I was determined to leave everything I had out there and try and nick a result.
My wave started and we began the swim but around the 1k mark I was beginning to feel very sick. I am not sure whether it was nerves, the sea water or the jel I had just taken before the race, but it wasn’t enjoyable and cost me a bit of time without a doubt. I exited the swim around the 36min mark and relatively happy all things considered.
I really enjoyed the bike course as it was on a road I use when driving all the time. Up and back down Hessa street 3 times with a tail wind going up and a headwind back, I had a lot of fun. The only issue was that I felt the need to consume 6 – 7 gels over the 2 hours and 47 mins I was on the bike. There are millions of different articles and pieces of advice you can find on the internet about best practice and rule of thumb when it comes to nutrition, but I can tell you right now, that is way too much.
Completely oblivious of what I had done, I entered T2 in a pretty strong position with my only worry being that I may of gone too hard on the bike and if my legs would hold up for the 21kms ahead of me. “you’ll be fine’ I said to myself. “Just go off steady and build in to a rhythm – you’re way ahead of schedule”
So off I went running at around 5.10min k pace which is slow but I was very happy to stay at for the first 5k. Its worth pointing out at this point that it was around 10.30am and the weather was around 32 degrees C. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that is bloody hot and not ideal when you’re about to embark on a half marathon. Even less ideal when you’re unaware of what is just around the corner.
The first couple of k of any run off the bike is tough while you get your legs used to the change in motion and your heart rate a steady pace. But by 3k I was still not feeling good, and by 4k I was feeling worse. Then my stomach started playing games and by the 5.25 turnaround point it had enough.
I spent the next 15.25 kms following a clockwork routine of Run, Puke, Walk, Run, Puke, Walk. To say it was rough would be a rather large understatement.
Even in the best conditions that is not something you want to go through, but when its beaming sunshine and every bit of energy you had stored is now plastered across the crescent of the Palm, it’s actually quite dangerous. I was unable to consume anything aside from water and even when I did that, I saw it again moments later. I still don’t know how I managed to get to the end but I stumbled across in 5hrs 43 mins and 46 seconds. 23 seconds slower than Mallorca earlier in the year and a 2:15:55 half marathon split! Ouch!
It took me a good while to recover from the race and that gave me time to reflect on what happened. This sport is bloody tough and if you want to do it well there are no shortcuts at ANY level. Although the nutrition issues played a key role in my day, I was 100% guilty of showing a lack of respect to the distance and I said to myself the next day that will never happen again.
Its a bit of a cliché but how often do you hear people say that you learn more from disappointment than success? It’s thrown around all the time particularly with sport but in my case it couldn’t of been more true. I looked at what I was doing and what I wanted to achieve in the sport and decided that I needed a complete overhaul. I realised I wasn’t happy just being a middle of the pack athlete and needed to do something about it particularly with training structure and planning. My answer was simple. I needed a coach.
I found my guy and met him 2 days later. 3 days later I had my first assessment session and by the end of the week I had started my personalised training plan all structured towards my next race which was 4 months away – Challenge Dubai. We looked at my weaknesses and technique and worked out how I could get the most ‘bang for my buck’. Like most age groupers I have a pretty unpredictable job which means I have to be flexibile and plan my sessions in order to get the most out of them. Before I would just rock up to the gym with no plan or just head out on a 10k run at one pace not knowing if it was really helping me improve. Having a weekly plan allowed me to plan around my work and social life and gave me the confidence that what I was doing was working. This proved to be pivotal in my improvement as it relieved the mental stress I was putting on myself regarding training – one of the biggest issues age groupers come up against in this sport.
Aside from the Christmas period I pretty much trained everyday in one shape or form but averaged around 6 hours a week in the 4 months – almost half the average when I was training for Ironman. Obviously its worth noting that I was only training for a half so that would make sense but I knew deep down that this was the fittest i’d been for a long time and was only really lacking the endurance needed for a longer event which you can only get from hours and hours in a low heart rate state, or what’s otherwise know as f***ing mind numbing training!
February came and I got my usual chest cold 3 weeks out from the race. This was another bonus of having a coach as he helped me understand that it wasn’t going to effect my fitness level enough to make a difference and that all the bulk of the work was already done. The stress I put myself through before Ironman France when I thought i’d lost all my fitness in the 2 weeks leading into the race was actually probably more detrimental to my performance than the illness that I caught. Stress is literally the number one evil and the more you can limit it the better you will become.
We put my plan together which included my nutrition and HR zones and I was ready to go which was something I had never done before, particularly with nutrition. I removed gels altogether from my plan and stick with solid food and high calorie chews.My relationship with jels has now come to an eternal end.
Feeling excited, I woke up on the morning of the race and the weather was like nothing id seen before in dubai. The wind was blowing at speeds up to 50kmph and the sea was like something you’d expect to see on the coast of Australia, not in Dubai. As such the swim course was moved inside the bay and became 2 loops. I was actually really relaxed for some odd reason, perhaps it was that I knew I had done the work and stress levels were low I don’t know. The pro’s went off first and were thrown around like rag dolls in the 3ft waves. I was still very relaxed.
The swim was as rough as it looked. So much so that I came out in over 40mins and way off my target time. While I was annoyed I knew there wasn’t anything I could do apart from bike hard and run harder. So that’s what I did.
By the time I had reached 45km split averaged around 39kmph. Granted there was a pretty big tail wind for about 30km of that but the other 15km was made up of horrific side wind that actually blew people off the bike. I knew that was fast as it was way beyond what I planned but I was well within my HR zones that I set out with my coach before the race. Happy days!
The way back wasn’t so enjoyable into huge headwinds but I managed to hold on and get to t2 with a 2:37 bike split and an average of 34.2kmph, whilst also nailing my nutrition. Buzzing!
It was at this point where I told myself to just stick to the plan on the run. Stay in my zones planned and if I have anything left at the end use it. And that’s exactly what I did. Looking back at my data my HR pretty much stayed between 3 beats of each other the whole way (155 – 158 between zone 3 &4). That might not mean much to you but to me and my coach that was amazing as it allowed me to stay just below threshold and at the same pace for the whole 21k. I had executed my plan perfectly and as a result ran my fastest ever half marathon off the bike (1:42:32) and was over the line in 5:06:34 (9th in AG).
As always, when you look back at a race, you ask yourself could I have done more here and what if I did that there, its inevitable and this was no different. But for me, this was my first real breakthrough race i’d had and it really showed me what I could acheive. In all honesty, I hadn’t really changed much in terms of hours trained or types of exercises over the 4 months, in fact, I probably did less and kept it simpler than before. The real difference was that I highlighted what was the real factor in the way of me improving and resolved it. I worked out I needed a structure to suit my life and eliminated the mental stress I was putting on myself. The result speaks for itself.
I’m now planning the rest of my year and working out what races to do. Last weekend I did a sprint where I managed to get 8th place (out of 71) which was really fun – 1 hour 20mins of full on pedal to the metal. Sadly though that was the last triathlon here until October but in truth there is a lot I need to work on before I race again later in the year.
The race in Dubai managed to raise another 90 quid for Headcase which was brilliant but we need CAN and MUST do more. We’ve all put so much into this over the last few years achieved great things. Now is the time to evaluate where we are going and and what we need to do in order to take this to the next level, we can’t stop!
The triathlon bar has been raised and new targets have been set. Let’s all analyse what we can do to raise the fundraising bar and make 2016 the year of breakthroughs.