Road to Kona… Take two…
Wow – what a ride!
This season I mean….
It doesn’t seem all that long ago I was sat, stewing in my own juice, typing up a blog post, having failed to reach my goal of Kona qualification by the end of 2013.
It was a bitter pill and a pretty tough time, having worked so hard and made a fair few sacrifices, for it to all come to nothing.
In 2013 you may remember that, having missed the last spot at Ironman Lanzarote by 1 place, I had another crack at Ironman Tenby, only two be taken out of the running by two punctures in rainy conditions.
Sometimes sport sucks – but you gotta pick yourself up.
None the less, the winter was spent with a lot of soul searching….
Could I really face putting myself through it all over AGAIN?
The cold, wet winter bike miles, the “stupid o’clock” swims before work, the horrible Wattbike sessions and tortuous laps of Saffron lane. Not to mention the compromised social life and lack of energy to do anything much outside training – Uggghhh!!
I sometimes question why I do it. For me, the results are the payback…. the reward. And when those pay backs don’t come – you conned.
I questioned whether I even have what it takes? After all, I’d given it my best in 2013 and come up short. Every year the “older” age-groups seem to get faster. With pro athletes retiring and taking up age-group competition and racing snakes moving across from shorter distances.
In reality, the training I can cope with (just about) but the other sacrifices were starting to weigh heavy. Sharing this “hobby” with Claire, meant our bank balance hadn’t seen the black in years. We had a house that looked like a building site, a permanent pile of washing up in the kitchen sink, one spare room looked like a garage / gym / bike shop, the other looked like a laundrette. The garden had been designated a “Sight of Special Scientific Interest” – due to the size and variety of weeds and wild flowers. And I’m pretty sure we were on “borrowed time” with most of our friends and family (sorry).
Luckily, Claire and I still saw plenty of each other – just a shame it had to be ploughing up and down a pool in the mornings or the gym at lunchtime!
In short, this bloody Kona itch was becoming an unhealthy, disruptive and expensive obsession.
I honestly felt it WAS within my reach though and, like any goal, you gotta expect a few misses – I just needed a bit of good fortune and had learned a lot from my experiences in 2013. It had to be worth one last punt. So, “better the devil you know” and all – I entered Ironman Tenby for 2014. And Claire decided to join me.
Game on – another crack at the “SS double” Kona attempt was on! What a pair of mugs.
Fast forward a year and, in the blink of an eye, Tenby race week was here. Claire and I had both had successful seasons up to this point, with a smattering of silverware and a few notable personal best.
Jack had given us both a good taper and we were climbing the walls by the Thursday before race day as we headed down to Tenby for our final preparations.
After an anxious few days, trying to keep mounting nerves and anxiety in check, race morning dawned. Thankfully it looked like we were going to be blessed with a dry, sunny day, though a strong Easterly remained which would make the bike even more of a test. The wind on race day would combine with some extreme tidal conditions to make sure the swim off North Beach would finally match the reputation of the challenging bike and run legs.
After our usual morning ritual we ambled into Tenby to prepare our bikes in the darkness before heading back to North Beach for the start. We decided to forgo the formal athlete procession having been held up by the resulting bottleneck last year. It was very calming to find ourselves among the first few athletes on North Beach. We chatted with friends and were greeted by the most incredible sunrise. It was really quite powerful and completely energised me.
At this point I just had the feeling that, one way or another, things were going to be ok.
At 7:00 we were on our way, battling waves at the shoreline and the heavy swell out to the first buoy. I quickly found myself some space and just focussed on relaxing. I find this is key to swimming well in heavy swell. It doesn’t matter how strong you are – the waves will win, so you are far better just “going with the flow”. My approach paid dividends and I exited the water after lap 1 in under 30 minutes – even I was surprised by that given the tough conditions – hell I even enjoyed it it a weird kinda way. A long run up and back down the beach and I was back in for my second lap. It felt a little tougher and longer due to the advancing tide, but in 01:03:30 I was once again running up the beach to start the 1k jog through Tenby to collect my bike.
I didn’t hang about in transition and was soon onto the course, enjoying the tail wind out to the Angle peninsular. The air felt warm, the sun was out and it looked like it was set to remain. During the early miles of an Ironman bike section race pace feels like a breeze! Even more so when you are assisted by a tail-wind. I knew there was real danger here as it’s so easy to over cook things while the legs feel good. I had to keep a lid on things. I knew from numerous times around this course that it really punishes you in the second half if your early pace is too ambitious.
In spite of this, I soon found myself up with last year’s winner of the M40 age-group, a very strong German who had a sub 8:45 Ironman to his name! I figured he’d most likely be up at the sharp end and was happy to be with him at this early stage.
I settled into a conservative pace gradually catching and passing riders. One or two came by me but my mantra for the day was to “race my own race” – I was determined not to get involved in a bike race or let other athletes affect the strategy and pacing that I had agreed with my coach.
I was soon at Angle having caught a number of pros and a few well known, fast Age groupers. Mmmm?? Had I gone too fast after all? Maybe I should cool my jets?
A pace line had formed up the road which was moving too quickly for me to want to overtake. It was an awkward situation as while I didn’t have the speed to pass, but did not want to put myself anywhere near a drafting penalty.
I decided to come off the gas a little – let a healthy gap open but keep the pack in my sights. I felt a few other guys were similarly frustrated – wanting to avoid drafting, but not wanting to put in the potentially damaging effort to overtake and drop the pace line.
The fast German had hooked up with one of his countrymen. And ex-pro who went 8:31 at Roth last year. And yes – he was in the M40-44 Age-group also! God Damn!
I repeated my mantra…..
The first lap passed without major incident. I was actually glad when the pace line started stretching away. I had the road to myself and could concentrate on my own race once again. Frustratingly a few more M40’s had come by me – like trains! I certainly wasn’t going to give chase. I just tried to keep a mental note of where I was in my category as I knew there were 7 Kona spots up for grabs. I’d estimated I was maybe in 6th – but this was largely guesswork.
The demons do creep in though. Was I being overly cautious or were those coming by over cooking it? Only time would tell – but I had to stick to my guns.
From about 3.5 hours I actually had a bad patch – but I’ve done enough of these to know this never signals the end. It’s always just a phase. I kept taking on board my nutrition safe in the knowledge that it would pass. Sure enough, well into the second (shorter) lap I was once again back in control and passing people. Some of whom had passed me on lap one.
My time splits at key check points (I’d taped a schedule to my top tube) were pretty much bang on. I was a few minutes behind my planed pace as I rolled into T2 in around 5hrs 45 minutes and still under 7hrs total race time. I was happy with this given the windy conditions and felt well up for a solid Marathon.
“I think you’re in 9th place” a friend yelled!!
“Sod it” I thought!! I had been convinced I was comfortably inside the top 7.
I was fairly sure 1st and 2nd were away and clear, but it looked like the remaining spots were still to play for.
Still – I had some work to do, so knuckled down to the job in hand.
I had numerous friends and family around the course with others tracking me on-line and feeding info to my supporters in Tenby by phone. They did an incredible job keeping me up to date with my position even though the on-line tracker was suffering long delays.
I knew I was passing guys in my age-group so I was more than a little depressed when my good friend Terry told me that the tracker still had me in 9th!
I figured that must be a technical glitch. I was running well and so I pushed on, determined not to let this news derail my efforts.
The run course at Tenby is a toughy. Four 10.5k laps with pretty much half the lap up hill and half of it down, neither of which you appreciate on tired legs. With two laps to go I was keeping to my schedule of 50 minute laps. I finally had word from another friend, Ian, that I was now in 4th. Even with some allowance for errors with the tracker I felt happy. I was where I needed to be and I felt energy return to my legs – amazing.
The run course was now looking like a war zone. With broken bodies marching up and down the road. I even passed two athletes spark out on the deck being tended to by medics. Make no mistake, Tenby takes no prisoners!
Nobody behind me seemed to be moving all that quickly. “No heroics” I repeated to myself – keep feeding, keep running. I urged my legs not to fail me and I pushed on.
Easier said than done of course and anyone who has run an Ironman marathon knows it’s the second half where things can start to unravel and it can happen in an instant – but it’s incredible how motivating that Kona carrot is. NOTHING short of BOTH legs falling off was going to stop me running at this stage. In fact I even managed to pull off my 2nd fastest lap for lap 4 and I finished up with a 3:20:53 run split. Coach had put 3:20:00 on my schedule. I hope he’ll let me off the 53 seconds!
My Mum had been going ballistic out on the course – cheering me on and waving her Welsh Flag. It was wonderful to have her there, along with many great fiends. I even felt the presence of those who I knew would be tracking me on-line. You were all playing your part and I can’t thank you enough.
And so that was that…
10:21:39, 4th in the M40-44 Age-group and 21st Overall including the Pro field. But more important than any of that….. I’d finally got that Kona monkey off my back! (I don’t know if they have monkeys in Kona?)
It was a strange feeling. Did I jump around like a loony at the finish?
Did I have a little tear in my eye?
It was a sense of enormous relief really – complete contentment, the like of which I’ve never experienced. I’ve been dreaming of Kona for decades and trying seriously to qualify for over three years. It was liberating to know that all the effort HAD finally been worth it (and that I wouldn’t have to go through it again). I felt like I was floating on air. It was quite overwhelming.
All that remained for me was to see how Claire was getting on.
I had seen her running into T1 as I was heading out on the bike, relieved to see she’d had an ok swim.
During the run I’d been able to gauge her position relative to me – expecting her to be around an or so hour behind. It was pretty clear that she was further behind than that with plenty of girls in front. In fact it turned out that, after a tough bike, she was down in 7th with only 2 spots in her category.
She had an almost impossible mountain to climb…
But Claire doesn’t give up easily….
I’m sure she’ll share her experiences soon – suffice to say she pulled a fairly sizeable rabbit out of the hat on that run, completing the fastest female marathon of the day (including the pros). She moved through the field, and caught the 2nd place girl with one lap to run.
That coveted 2nd spot was hers and with it she become the second Shea-Simonds to grab a Kona spot that weekend!
It was an awesome “never say die” performance.
Again, my kit performed faultlessly. I fuelled my day with USN Enduro Carbs, Cyto Max and Vooma gels. They just go down a treat. Quite incredible on a day when many people suffered GI issues from the rough sea.
My new Zone 3 Align wetsuit was brilliant. I had what could almost be described as a (whisper it) enjoyable swim. Many suffered in the sea and were 5-15 minutes down on previous years. I was just over a minute down which given the conditions was terrific.
I used my Champion System one piece tri-suit – which I can wear safe in the knowledge that it will be comfortable all day long.
I ran in Skechers Go Mebs – they are now my go to shoe for all my racing – no matter what the distance. Light, comfortable, fast and never give me blisters.
Our incredible sponsors ease some of the burden of staying healthy and racing Ironman and I can’t thank them enough.
But none of it would be possible without Racetime Events and the selfless support and personal generosity of Johnny. He is truly one of life’s diamonds.
In the days after the race I made a deal with myself. In 2015 I needed some balance back in my life. I would go to Kona for the experience. I’d get myself in good shape for sure, but take the pressure off myself and enjoy it. I would not go to Hawaii chasing times or finish positions…..
I’d see more of my friends, I’d do some DIY, some gardening and maybe even some regular laundry!
A week or so on…… I’m wondering if I could get a top 10?
And maybe even an Ironman PB?
The house can probably wait 😉