Well that wraps up Ironman number 9, and what a race Ironman Barcelona turned out to be, with PBs all round. My finishing time of 10:04 was a race PB of almost 40 mins, and each of the splits (1:14 swim, 5:07 ride and 3:32 run) were also individual PBs. Some good signs that the hard work and persistence are finally starting to pay off!
Ironman quoted 3,800 starters in what was apparently the world’s biggest Ironman, and the course certainly felt congested at points, but also meant we didn’t have any of the little luxuries like race tattoos, finishers towels, or volunteer help in transition.
All up my training went pretty well, allowing for the obligatory niggle. I focussed more on swim technique and bike strength this time round. Having shed too much weight by the end of the build to fit into my wetsuit, I had a bit of a scramble to get a new one the day before flying out. Thankfully my replacement turned out to be a perfect fit as I tested it for the first time during the warmup swim in the beautiful Mediterranean. But standing 6 rows back and about to start the rolling swim start, my goggle clip broke… and I could only chuckle at the irony of not bringing a spare for the first race ever. Some quick snapping and bending of plastic and a knot in the strap and I was good to go. I was hoping for a slightly quicker swim but I knew I was fighting a bit of a current at times, so was happy I had improved 10 minutes from the NZ lake swim in March. It was the most physical swim I’d been in, with a lot of pushing (and even sideways shoving) to boost the competitve spirits.
Off into transition (which is a self-serve affair) and out onto the first 3km of the bike leg – a narrow, no aero bars zone with tight corners, paving and speed humps. Once out onto the proper course it was time to open up and have some fun. Riding on the right hand side of the road and taking water bottles with the right hand was a bit of a change. The course was quite frantic and congested at times and even had some large elite peletons drafting each other (despite the rules, but there were 491 drafting penalties handed out!). There were a few close shaves and accidents at high speed with some competitors throwing bike handling skills to the wind in a rush of adrenaline.
The 90km turnaround in Calella was fantastic, with 1000s of supporters of different nationalities leaning over barriers, waving large banners, and yelling out (e.g. “Allez, allez”) – it felt like a Tour de France stage. Lap 2 started fractionally slower as the wind had flipped direction, as well as blowing down the hill climbs, but it was advantageous in other areas. The last 30km went really quickly until the final 3km slow zone back into town.
I think my only hitch on a fast, enjoyable ride was the water from the aid stations. Instead of proper plastic bidons that we’re used to in Australia and NZ, the course only supplied the cheap thin water bottles from bulk supermarket packs. These hardly fit in the bidon cages, and crumpled once opened making it difficult to get them back in the cages and stay there. These kept dropping off everyone’s bikes and we had to be constantly vigilant not to hit these on the road. The side effect was not taking on as much fluid as I needed, so some lessons there for my next warm weather race setup.
Off onto the run and immediately I could feel the humidity. The run course was mostly flat, partly on footpaths and partly on gravel roads, with a few switchbacks underneath the road and train line. The first 10km went well, albeit with a numb right foot from calf tightness, but nothing new in my races, and I knew I just had to wait it out. By lap 2 I felt I was maintaining the same 4:30-4:45 pace but the Garmin was telling me different. Most of this lap was hurting, but I kept trying to push the gels and water down. The end of lap 2 and all of lap 3 was increasingly difficult, and I was making use of the water sponges at aid stations to keep cool. I also had to take a couple of longer stops and take on full 330ml bottles of water as I was starting to feel a little dizzy. To be honest, I was disappointed with the run, but it was ultimately a consequence of the logistics of not being able to get enough additional water back on the bike leg.
That final 1km to the red carpet, and down the finishing chute were such a welcome sight. Nothing like the sounds of the cheering crowd and hearing “James Tyler from Australia, you are an Ironman” as I crossed the line into Megs’ arms. Despite being just short of breaking the 10hr mark, it was such a great race. As Megs says that’s something to look forward to in the future.
So many people to thank! A huge thanks to my coach Greg, the fount of knowledge (and dry wit 😉) who worked closely with me to create a great customised program, and to Ollie and the other coaches at #TriAlliance who continue to believe in my potential. A big thanks to the team at Monash (especially Chris) for their continuing work on optimising my race nutriton, and to Simon at Lakeside and Jess for keeping this body finely tuned despite the abuse I was dishing out. Thanks to Scott for pulling out all stops to try and find me a properly fitting wetsuit. A big shout out to Monika and Alexandra from #ElliptiGOExperiences for the use of one of their fantastic ElliptiGO bikes which helped me maintain fitness after NZ Ironman and before launching into my Barcelona build. And to Snow – we really appreciate you coming over from NZ to house and dog-sit little Brandy. And of course huge hugs and kisses to Megs who continues to support me in this all-consuming sport – love ya babe.
Racing on your own in another country with a foreign language is quite a different kettle of fish, so it was awesome to get so many messages of support from home (and to see Megs and Sonia out on the course supporting)! Thanks heaps guys. The final challenge is getting a 32kg bike box back, plus suitcase, with only 30kg luggage allowance and without paying $2100 for excess baggage 😯.
Now time for a few weeks holiday around Spain and Portugal… and (a little) sangria and a few tapas. May or may not be some churros as well…