Ironman Lanzarote, well known to be the toughest on the planet, met all expectations and I loved every minute of it; the pre-race jitters, the carnage=black eye on the swim, the burning legs on the bike, the burning bum on the run and most of all the cheers from mum, my friends and support crew throughout the day! To come 5th pro woman in my first Ironman was also a great feeling!
Race morning, I woke early to the sound of my bleeping polar CS800. I cant say I jumped out of bed immediately, almost falling back to sleep but then remembering that today was the day that I was going to be doing a 3.8k sea swim, 180k windy, hilly bike and 42k baking run. Gulp. I better get up then!
When I first started triathlon, a sprint distance even seemed like a long way and it felt like it too. I got dizzy and disorientated on the swim, fell off my bike after the dismount line and struggled around the flat run to place midway through the field. So to now being doing an Ironman – as a professional and having given up my career as a solicitor – begs belief! Not that I want to get all deep and meaningful here, but there’s a reason why my favourite quote is: ‘throw your heart out in front of you and run ahead to catch it’. Some people say they wish or want for such things to happen, but surely I am proof that any one of us can make it happen?
On the start line, the nerves had shifted to excitement and I was chatting amongst my fellow compatriots, Rachel Joyce and Jo Carritt, on the water’s edge. I looked back to see a sea of tightly packed age groupers, 1400+ in all that snaked up to the top of the beach. The front runners were already fighting for position and soon to be swimming over me! Given my swim is the weakest of the 3, I fully expected to be swum over, kicked and pushed so it was no surprise when just that happened. Getting a black eye wasn’t ideal nor was being sick in the 2nd lap from drinking all the froffy sea water but race head was on so it all barely registered at the time. Also, the tussles weren’t bad meaning, simply a keeness by all to get around the swim as fast as possible. Game plan was to go as hard as I could, which I did and I came out in 56mins. It was a nice boost to see that on the clock even though I knew it must have been a fast day of swimming. Nevertheless, I was happy to feel strong and push hard.
Here’s me exiting the water on lap 1 of 2…
The bike was to be the real test and was the part I was most excited about. As you can see from the map, the route takes you up, down and around the whole island of Lanzarote. The wind screams through the barron volcanic hilly landscape to make for a tough, yet beautiful Ironman bike course.
I was wearing my compressport forquads from the start to help me race faster and preserve my muscles for the run. I pushed hard from the moment my feet hit the pedals, watching my cadence and speed on my polar CS500. I was conscious also not to push too hard too early and let myself enjoy the moment and the energy from the crowds helped carry me along. The first few hours went by pretty smoothly, I was re-fueling using TORQ energy drink and my favourite TORQ banana bars, going down nicely just as they do on all my training rides. I eat a hundred of them a week but never get bored and thankfully all TORQ products are derived solely from natural ingredients so I don’t have to worry about excessive consumption of e-numbers or preservatives found in other branded energy products.
My problems then probably started when my TORQ ran out and I had to rely on the drinks at the aid stations resulting in me making some school boy errors. I’d got into a false sense of security in the first few hourswhere the aid stations came thick and fast, at a time of course when I didn’t need them. I hadn’t studied the maps to see exactly where all the stations were and as it turned out not so many in the 2nd half! I was almost out of drinks coming up the major climbs to Mirador so had to drink a little conservatively to last me to the top where there was an aid station. Someone fell at the crest of the hil directly in front of me, so I was unable to grab any drinks from the volunteers. Rather than stop, I assumed, which of course you should never do and as coach says, ‘assumption is the mother of all f&ck ups’, that they’d be an aid station soon enough. I was of course wrong and had to wait over an hour before the next one. Then came my toughest hour, on the bike at least.
I was becoming more and more dehydrated, my legs were totally smashed pushing the big gear and from all the tasty steep climbs, and, then my upper back, neck and arms were half cramping and getting pins and needles. My power no doubt lessened as a result but so it appeared did everyone else’s. My resolve certainly did not however – game plan was always to push this part of the bike so I stuck to it pushing down hard on the pedals, albeit sat up for a while to take the pressure off my arms and get rid of the pins & needles.
It wasn’t a great feeling but it was a similar feeling that I’d had before – on the 3rd day of 4 in La Ruta mountain bike race across Costa Rica (race report here), I’d done a 4-hour climb up 2 volcanoes. I’d chosen to in effect time trial up them, giving it everything as I predicted that that day was to decide the standings. Once at the top, we had to descend by the same amount we had already climbed and battle slippery mud, huge rocks, technical twists and turns and river crossings and such like. The descent was relentless and the pressure through my arms and fatigue from the days’s riding culminated in excruciating cramps and pins and needless in my back and arms. It lasted almost 2 hours. The pain was soon enough forgotten when it eventually eased after I crossed the finish line. So actually, being able to sit up along a smooth flat road with the wind behind me in Lanzarote was nothing compared!
I was very happy to see the next aid station and also to hear the cheers from mum and Tamsin Lewis from inside a hired car that was being driven in typical Tammy fashion, taking up most of the road and causing havoc with the Spanish police! From that point, it was all smiles again. I yet again saw Stu & Amber (my next door neighbours in La Santa village) at the crest of the last climb and all that was left was to enjoy the fast, twisty descent back to Puerto del Carmen to finish the bike in 5 hours 56minutes!
I sped into T2, excited and somewhat nervous about how an earth my burning legs were going to run. Total relief came over me in the first few strides as I felt like I was floating on air, bouncing from stride to stride feeling even better when I was in my running shoes, picked by Profeet. I caught a glimpse of Rich, another of my next door neighbours in La Santaw who’s a manager at CLS and who was cheering me on from the sidelines!
Smiling from ear to ear and being greeted by excitable crowds, I began the run…
Unlike my earlier race strategy, the tactic for the run was to play defense. I knew I wasn’t quite yet fit or strong enough to race the entire Ironman, let alone the Lanzarote Ironman, and it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ I would break down – it turned out to be 15k into the run to be exact. It’s probably best we don’t go into the details now, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty and somewhat more gruesome compared to what’s previously happened to my body when it’s broken down during long distance mountain bike races. Whether it was over-eating in the preceding days, eating only solids on the bike or dehydration on the bike and run, I think I need to take a closer look at the mistakes I made and get them right for next time. Hopefully then my run time of 3hours 31minutes as well as my total time of 10 hours 31 minutes will be improved somewhat! Despite all this, it was a good day of racing for where I currently stand in training and I’m already looking forward to getting back to it to prepare myself for the next one!
The following day was the awards party; a huge ceremony, fireworks at midnight and crazy dancing to the early hours and what was the perfect ending to a hugely enjoyable first Ironman!
Special thanks to mum, Tammy, all the Club La Santa crew, the volunteers & spectators and importantly, all my fab sponsors who make it possible for me to pursue my dream!