Chris Smith IM Mallorca

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Apologies folks a large section of the run section was missed off the last newsletter despite me editing and it showing in the preview. This report is too good not to be read in its entirety so here you go. 

Chris Smith IM Mallorca

Back in March having survived throwing myself off a snow board I wanted a challenge to frame my summer. The options were Tenby or Mallorca, Tenby has much to appeal but the draw of late summer sun won this lizards money.

However, there are drawbacks to Euro M-Dot races, heat means non wet suit swim and I get a silly tan; there is commercialisation with M-Dot branding everywhere; Euro athletes poncing about in compression everything; Lycra tank tops and being overtaken on the bike by a rider in speedos called Helmut. There is also a bravado in these races alien to my running background with everyone trying to outdo each other wearing their most exotic or extreme finishers t shirt, M-Dot this, 70.3 that, Marathon de Sables. I took great delight in watching athletes reactions as they read my Tshirt, 'Chirk Sprint', it's not even a finishers shirt, well it amused us. 

The upside to these races is M-Dot know what they are doing, put a great show on in a big event. A personal highlight was at the briefing the fella who finished 3rd in the first ever race spoke to the crowd, he came from the time when they genuinely didn't know if it was humanely possible to finish. The spirit he showed back in the day is very much alive in these events. The almost mass market appeal of them takes nothing away from the achievement of finishing. 

Swim - 3800m, non wetsuit with a beach start and Australian exit (swim out, return, turn around on beach then out and back again)

I'm standing alone with my thoughts surrounded by 2,600 people, the feelings are intense, of never feeling so alive, the reason why we do this. There are no more distractions, faffing with bike, little jogs or rides or any of the other myriad of ways athletes will cope with the looming race. It's time to face up to the day and task in hand. But what a way to start a race, in beautiful light from a rising sun there is white sand in my toes, warm blue water lapping at my feet and a calm sea before me. Heavenly peace, suddenly broken, no klaxon, no horn, just a rush of people into the sea, time to go.

That was the last calm, now bish, bash, bosh, flailing arms, thrashing legs driven with adrenaline all trying to find a gap of clear water or hold position, not asking for much but just enough to put strokes together. But no, criss crossing bodies, overlapping arms and legs, sea water swallowed, trying to synchronise my breathing and strokes to fit the staccato rhythm that surrounds me, bodies bashing together, gaps open and close like secret doors, privacy invaded, tempers fray, a swimmer beside Derrick stops, punches him twice then continues swimming, I'm scratched from shoulder blade to mid riff. 

A pattern emerges, a Darwinian natural order of swimmers imposes itself on the shoal, I'm now swimming with people of similar pace, some unity of direction and speed. But I'm too comfortable, time to jump feet, sprint and find the next tow, good pace but where are they going? Jump again, look up to see chaos, no idea where to navigate to as my view is obscured and the bouys are confusing, anyway I can't cut across the shoal, my only choice is to just go with the flow of swimmers drawing us to the beach.

Exit the sea after the first leg of the swim, re-enter, continue, this time for a shorter leg. Finished and out, crowds spill out into the water and line the route to the funnel, Karen cheers, I smile and wave. The warm sea and salt water mean swim times hold up to target wetsuit swim times, happy days, on target with the boys behind me.

Bike - 113 miles, two separate loops, the first loop has long draggy climbs balanced with long fast TT sections. The second loop takes us up into the mountains with a 40min constant climb at 75miles, a  descent of hairpins before finishing with 25miles into a headwind. 

Tim Don who subsequently won the race described the bike as 'dirty fast', by which I think he means you need to graft to get a good time out of it. This isn't a pb course such as Roth, Frankfurt or even Austria but it's not a Tenby or Lanza either, a good TT'er will do it proud. 

A triathlon bike leg in plot is simple, fastest is best, snooze you lose, it's black and white. But the plot has colour. There are many sand traps to fall into, over 100 miles to ride, hills to climb, a body to fuel and hydrate, there is still a marathon to run in heat, friends and rivals to beat, even complete strangers who you suddenly take an irrational dislike to (look unfit, older, younger, crap bike, expensive bike, German) taunt you to chase, in your head. It is in the mind that the battles are fought and subsequently unwind on the course. Too scared to lose you hold back and the race passes by. Too much to prove, crash and burn as your pace eventually devours your muscles and will. 

For me I was trying a different approach to the past, control my pace, even pacing and save something for the climb and the run. Having established my sustainable pace and heart rate in training I knew what levels I should race at, between 140-150hr (75-80%) but the lower the better. This proved immensely difficult, cruising with ease feeling I had several extra gears and capable of easily holding a conversation I was averaging 153. With bikes cruising past me it was too tempting to chase. Satisfied my elevated heart rate reflected race adrenalin I settled at this rate and let the bikes pass, muttering to myself 'see you on the run'. 

The ride out to Arta was lovely, cool, undulating climbs that normally I would attack, flowing smooth Tarmac and a constant stream of bikes passing by. Cool your jets I would say to myself. The race leaders flew past in the opposite direction, wow, how quick, how far ahead! The return to Alcudia slightly bored me, flattish riding, constant TT position, headwind building, no views to distract me, heat building and feeling uncomfortable in the saddle now. Head games, good TT'ers lap up this section and feel at ease in the discomfort, they pass me.

Alcudia and the welcome sight of Karen pass by, as does the flat road along the coast to Puerto Pollenca and Pollenca. The start of the climb comes as a relief, the different riding position give release as does the different strain of climbing. At 7.7km in length with 600m climbing the average gradient of 5.5% feels easier than climbing the shoe, my training staple. I can't control my hr here but feel good and spin, bikes pass but as the climb progresses I catch many and overtake. This is my favourite section of the ride, hot but beautiful. The descent is fast but the rhythm is broken by many hairpins. Heavier, braver riders pass, I cruise, 'see you on the run'. A rider overcooks a corner, the rear wheel slides towards the armcor, he regains control but pops his tube and pulls over.

The return to Alcudia was into a headwind for me but not for the packs of bikes that ripped the course. Packs of 15-20 bikes would cruise past me clearly chain-ganging, often with a draft buster motorbike beside them, unwilling, incapable or too soft to intervene. These are an annoying occurrence in iM races. With a few miles to go Batty went past but I had no idea where the other boys, Begley, Hamilton and Steve were. The last act, the run would reveal all. 

That was the most comfortable bike leg I have ridden, no big swings in pace or mood I feel good. Too easy or just right? Let's see what the run says! 

Run - 26.2 miles through the resort of Alcudia, pan flat and warm (25-28) split into 4.5 laps (the maths would later melt my brain).

Within 500m I saw our support crew, Karen, Ciara, Maria and Steves girlfriend with a homemade banner cheering with big grins and warmth. The run is all in the mind and its moments like these that keep us going, something to look forward to. Immensely grateful to all partners and support (Not forgetting Estelle and the Batty families) especially on the run, thanks guys, we even forgive you the coffee and cake you had when you missed a lap...

As said its now all mental with a variety of tricks,  break it down into chunks 4 x 10ks instead of a marathon, seeing supporters at regular points (being gutted when they move), next feed station, overtaking someone, passing someone with fewer hair bands (lap counters), mental tricks to distract from the pain. 

Those are the positive tricks but we all have to face dark times, nausea, dizziness, cramp, heat, pain and for many on this course especially later in the evening, loneliness, you're own head for company when you have been on your feet for 14-16 hours must be tough, fair play to the back markers. These are the times when the spirit of ironman comes through, none showed it more than Kenny and Andy (both Chester Tri) Kenny needing a lie down to settle his nausea, Andy a sit in an ambulance on the bike course while chucking. Both were great opportunities to hand in the race number but both dug in.

The atmosphere in this race was muted, the swim was nice but there was little support on the bike. The support on the run was boosted by the 'Mallorcan triathletes' in their 'Eat, drink, @@@@' t shirts making the first hour or two bubbly but as the holiday makers interest waned the support fizzled out, the last half of the run was flat in atmosphere, pity those behind. Not a patch on Austria or Tenby.

As soon as I started my run I felt great and settled into a rhythm, after 3k I saw Kenny running in the opposite direction looking good. Dark horse! Ironman debut and as a great runner he was potentially on a flyer. I had a rabbit, these moments bring out the competitive edge needed to focus in an IM, when the pain builds keep focused and keep pushing. Just after the 1st lap Kenny was in sight, shuffling, when I caught him he was suffering with nausea, a few tips and off I go. For the rest of the race I imagined him to be chasing me down, true or not I had to believe it to keep pushing. 

By half way my legs are in pieces and my pace imperceptibly dropped. Survival to the next feed station (every 2.5k) through which I walked every one, listen to my body, nausea drink water, dizzy get coke and banana, cramp drink ISO, feeling hot so pour water on my head and chest. These oasis gave me a boost and my legs just enough recovery to pick up the pace again but the relief only lasts 1k before I needed another station.

The second half of the marathon is a painful drag. Counting down my lap hair bands (hair band envy) before collecting my final one. Only now I allowed myself to think of a finishing time. Too much can go wrong in an IM to make assumptions but I was now in the final 6k. However, trying to calculate my Eta, k's to the finish and lap averages was too much for my brain. Each lap is 9k, we run 4.5 laps but the markers only count from 1-9, how far to go? How many laps run x 9 plus current mile marker gives total run distance covered, deduct this from 42, simple...  Just run as fast as I can until the finish. 

I'm onto the final stretch, the blue beach path that in 2k will lead me to the finish. Duped into thinking the end was near my brain released my legs from their clamps and let me pick up the pace, let me enjoy the moment and relax into a speed and rhythm recently forgotten. Into the finish Shute, crowds cheering and clapping in a sunny Spanish fiesta, my arms out like wings high fiving looking for Karen. With a clear route to the finish I look at the commentator and point at my race prompting for the first time in four races the immortal words 'Chris, You are an Ironman!'. 

Not long after me Kenny and Derrick finished (in comical style he cramped and had to touch his toes just on the finish line), followed later by Steve and Andy. All finished well, great days racing, lots of lessons learnt and a Great achievement by all.

I have approached these races in different ways, Lanza was a joy in the face of injury, Austria I was the dog chasing the pack only finding myself at the front, an awakening, Austria second time s**t or bust in an inferno, but this time the theme was patience. I applied my experience, lessons learnt, feeding, pace, training which made this the most controlled and 'comfortable' IM I have done. This wasn't an easy race or strategy by any means, capping my competitive drive took some doing. Karen likens me to a dog chasing swimmers, bikers and runners in my training sessions. But this time I kept my inner dog on a leash but I finished wagging my tail. 

Thanks to Karen for her support on the day and throughout my long training and to the Battys and chester Tri guys for making it an occasion to share and remember. 

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