Friday, 17 July 2009

One hundred percent me...

With a few important and time consuming things planned for Sunday we thought we'd post early this week...

So, here we are nearly a whole week after our second Ironman of 2009 and it's race report time...

The week before race week Hels and I jumped in the Team Southerns Ford S-Max and together with four bikes, ten wheels and enough spare kit to send man to Mars headed down to Klagenfurt for some hot weather training and Ironman spectating. Having never done two Iron distance events so close together the previous five weeks had been somewhat of a learning curve but with Pool Triangle (29:54), Olympic triathlon (1:59) and 50 mile TT (1.58) pbs all achieved since Lanzarote I was feeling pretty confident. Having spoken to a few athletes who had achieved success in summer Ironman events following Lanza the idea was to train reasonably hard up until race week and only taper for about 8-9 days. Therefore, despite Monday & Tuesday (travel) and Sunday (Ironman spectating) being rest days we still managed just over 15 hours of training including a decent brick session consisting of one lap of the Austria bike course and a VERY hilly ten mile run straight off. The brick was done on the Friday and although I was pleased to ride 2.44 for the bike lap, on my winter wheels, the heat (30 degrees +) got the better of me on the run and struggling to maintain ten minute miles the only thing that kept me going was the hope that Zurich would surely feel much easier a week later if my body managed to acclimatise. By the time we got to Austria race day we were pretty fried and although it wasn't a training day over 15 hours of shouting, cheering and jumping up and down meant that race week would require a seriously good recovery strategy.

Arriving in Zurich on the Monday afternoon I felt mentally and physically exhausted, dinner and an early night followed but come Tuesday morning things weren't looking much better. We met up with good friends Andy and Debs to ride a lap of the course but a combination of freezing rain and poor road markings saw us abandon the ride after a few miles and head into the Old Town for lunch. By Wednesday the weather was somewhat better and joining the official bike tour we set off round the lake. The usual levels of bike bling and muscle flexing were on show but neither H nor I have ever been the type to get suckered into race week competitiveness and opting to join the slow group soon found ourselves getting dropped going up the hills as self imposed power limits held us back. I think we got round in about three and a half hours but my legs still weren't happy and the thought of taking an hour off that, twice, only four days later, was beginning to worry me. I don't think I've ever felt so empty that close to a race and with memories of Germany coming back to me it was time to up the recovery stakes... Thursday saw a 30 minute leg massage, Friday was a leg rest day, my carb intake was tripled and my water and salt intake followed suit. Trying to remain positive was difficult as every bike or run we did my legs felt so empty but as we fell into bed on Saturday night I knew all I could do was play the next day's 'cards' to the best of my ability... what hand I would be dealt come 7am was now out of my control...

Although watching Alistair Brownlee winning his 3rd ITU race of the year on the Saturday afternoon had temporarily filled me with confidence, by the time I was walking to transition on race morning I was on the phone to my mum letting out all my concerns about feeling as far removed from a 9.30 Ironman athlete as I could imagine. Sorry Mum, last minute confidence crises are not my normal style but I really thought I'd broken myself the week before in Austria (not only with the training but also with the travel and spectating) and with H about to race her final ever Ironman the last thing she needed was me falling apart on her shoulder. Anyway, what will be will be I thought, time for some swim biff...

The Swim
Having raced four previous Ironman events and never having experienced much of a swim beating I was sure my luck would be up this time. H and I positioned ourselves right in the middle about three rows back, seconds later the gun went and... I instantly found clear water! Now, I promise I started right in the thick of it and I'm sure I swam in a pretty straight line but for some reason by the time I was approaching the first turn buoy (about 800m) I was yet to even be touched by another athlete. Turning right I found myself caught on the inside and braced myself to no-doubt share the inside lane with the tri equivalent of Iron Mike Tyson... but again nothing! After 26 uneventful minutes I was on the Island, soaking up some much needed love from my Dad and the Team Southerns support crew, with all the negative pre-race thoughts left firmly behind on the start-line... time to race ;) With the two swim laps being different lengths I couldn't tell how quick I was swimming but I seem to have got the hang of swim pacing and feeling strong I pushed on... exiting the water with 57:58 on the clock and feeling strong I flew into transition... one minute and 42 seconds (less haste more speed) later and I was 20 seconds up on target and at 14th in my category only one place off Hawaii.

The Bike
For a couple of years now the bike has been my triathlon strength but a week of dead legs had left me unsure as to how I would feel. I knew the course was a little short (111 miles) and that 22mph would therefore see me to the run in good time, and if there's one thing I've learnt (the hard way) about Ironman it's to take the first half of the bike easy. My goal over the first 20 minutes was to start fueling asap and bring my heart rate swiftly down into the mid 140s. The first 17 miles were pan flat along the side of the lake so I knew that something around 23-24 mph was required, with perceived effort and heart rate as my guides I gradually built up a slight buffer against my '11 miles per 30 minutes' goal. As the hills kicked in I let my heart rate touch the low 150s and span nicely away, dropping back down to the lake a little behind schedule was expected and by the time I hit the final climb of the lap with less than five miles to go I knew I was having a good day. Coming past transition to start the second lap my Garmin said 2:30:45 for the 55.5 miles and with my heart rate settled at around 145 I was expectant of a negative split and sub five hour ride.

I hadn't experienced much drafting (cheating) in 2007 but towards the end of lap one groups had started to form. My good friend Jevon O'Neill had given me a word to use on race day and as the number of cheaters increased I reminded myself to 'RELAX'... 'ride your own race and it won't matter' I kept saying to myself, 'they cheat every year and <9.30 class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_26">bpm efforts followed but it was no good I just couldn't shake them. I sat up, let them ride by, dropped 20 metres off the back and had a think... of course, as soon as I dropped off the front they slowed and I was back to 125bpm 20 metres behind them. I tried two or three more times to ride them off my wheel but every time they hung and as my heart rate reached ten mile TT effort intensity I had no choice but to sit up and let them through. With about five miles to go before the turn away from the lake a draft buster rode up beside the whole group, surely they'd at least get a six minute penalty, which they'd have to take at the next penalty box and I could ride off into the sunset... but no, nothing, not even a stop/go warning. From this point on I pretty much ONLY saw people cycling in packs, I'd estimate that of the 'athletes' around my time splits and those who I was cycling in the opposite direction to at least 80% were cheating, yet a quick scan of the results shows no significant penalties! 'RELAX' I repeated again and again, 'they can cheat all they like, I'm going sub 9.30 today and will run them down on the marathon'. Following my 20 mile interval session along the lake, the hills helped to spread things out a little (only a little) and settling into my rhythm I was riding strong and matching the first lap at both my checkpoints (1:17 and 2:00). Having struggled for energy on the second lap of the Lanza run Jack and I had agreed that I should take on more calories in the final 30 minutes of the bike and with four caffeinated PowerBar energy gels taken in the final 10 miles I hit T2 with a 5:03:00 bike split. One minute and 25 seconds later (again, less haste more speed) I was running at 6:04:06, 54 seconds ahead of schedule and feeling great!

The Run
Having felt the worst I ever have during race week I found myself ticking off 4:30 kms, feeling by far the best I ever have over the first 10km of an Ironman marathon! Due to the positioning of the timing mat the laps weren't all the same length so I went by my watch and hit the red button each time I passed transition, giving laps of something like 10.6km for the first three and 10.2km for the fourth. This also meant that in my head I had a 400m 'bonus' with the final lap being the shorter. As with the bike I knew the first half needed to feel easy and passing transition for the second time with 1:37:45 on my run clock I was taking people for fun and as sure as I could be that I was running, almost literally, to Kona. As they had been throughout the race, my Dad, AKJ and all our supporters were amazing and with Andy shouting I needed a few more places (he was getting updates via Sam who was following online) I set about attacking the second half of the marathon. No sooner had my effort increased however than I was hit by a wave of stomach cramps... suddenly easy 7:30 min miles had turned to super tough 8 min miles, fellow 35-39 athletes were passing me back and where 13 miles to go had seemed like nothing, the remaining ten or so loomed in front of me like a double marathon! 'RELAX, RELAX, RELAX' I repeated, 'It's just a tough patch, remember Lanzarote' I said to myself. Lap three of four is often the hardest as you're a long way out yet a long way from home... I promised myself that if I could survive to the 'bell' without falling too far behind then I would deliver the fastest final 10k of my Ironman career. A 53 minute lap took me from roughly 31 to 41 km and throwing my cap to my Dad I set about running like never before, almost immediately I passed four or five 35-39 athletes and with every stride my energy increased. Just before the 1km mark on each lap there is a slight incline through an underpass and lifting on to my toes I've never felt so good until suddenly... bang! The worst cramp of my life!! I've never had muscle cramp during an Ironman run or stand alone marathon (plenty afterwards) but in exactly the same place as my stomach cramps had hit on lap three I was reduced to a hobble. 'Don't stop, whatever you do don't stop' I said to myself, I knew that my only chance was to run through it, hopefully it would pass... to stop now would surely let the group of 35-39 guys come flying past me and snatch my Hawaii place from me. It did pass pretty quickly but my newly found energy from the beginning of lap four was gone and like lap three it was time to survive. 'RELAX' I repeated, 'sub 9.30 is still on and that would have given 5th overall last year on the very same course so let them go, keep moving forward and get to the finish'. Our mate Hanno (second in double Ironman UK 2008 and also racing in Switzerland) had reminded me that it's all about getting from start to finish as fast as possible and that doesn't always mean running. I'd run every step up to this point but with energy levels flagging I chose to stop at a couple of aid stations, take a good drink of Coke, grab a gel and a sponge before settling back into a rhythm. A rather painful final lap of around 54 minutes (remember, my laps are different to the official laps) saw me cross the finish line a broken (nearly) but happy (very) five-time Ironman in a 28 minute pb of 9:28:48... Kona?

Post Race
Wandering into the finishers tent I was hopeful that my time would get me to the Big Island, hardly unrealistic considering it was 13 minutes faster than last year's mark and would have placed me 6th in 2008 with 13 slots. But something didn't feel right, the bike had been a draft fest and I'd seen a few too many competitors come past me in the final lap of the run. Going straight to the information point I collected my diploma to see I'd finished 105th overall and 25th in my category. I was too exhausted to think straight but with 13 slots available things weren't looking good. Still, I was determined to get back out on the course and cheer home H, I'd seen her looking great out on the run and as this was likely to be her final Ironman I wasn't about to let two broken legs get between me and her finish. Just after eleven hours Hels came flying by, grabbed 'The Religion' (our Team Southerns Leeds flag) and dived across the line.

Hawaii Roll Down
We went along to the Hawaii allocation with mixed feelings. It rolled down to 17th place and I missed out by three minutes and 11 seconds. I was prepared to not qualify by giving my best and losing out to the 'better man', by having a bad race or by succumbing to some kind of mechanical issue or puncture, I was even prepared for the odd rival to cheat me out of a position or two, but to train so hard for six months then execute the race of my life yet lose out to such blatant cheating is rather hard to deal with. Of the 24 35-39 males who finished ahead of me I reckon at least 15 will have drafted the majority of the bike leg (I saw most of them with my own eyes), not only significantly increasing their bike speed but also leaving them fresh for the run. They say you should never meet your heroes and up until Sunday afternoon Hawaii Ironmen were mine.

I'll probably pen a few more thoughts and reflections on my experience over the next few weeks, but for the moment I'll stick to repeating my word....



Rob Bane said...

I'm a big fan of overly florid language but I'm afraid I can only summarise my feelings thus; wow. Wow, wow, wow. I thought you were semi-joking when you posted 9:30 as your target time. Amazing, absolutely amazing. You've inspired me to commit to doing the Vit next year. I think you should allow yourself a few expletives to describe the cheaters, if you haven't already. But you did it, you know you did and they know they didn't, the &^*$s.

Khara Mills said...

Hey Tom
Great report, not so great with all the cheating, but you're SO much better than that and all those 'athletes' that your time will surely come. BELIEVE, we all know YOU CAN and H wants a trip to Hawai!
Huge congrats again on an amazing race:-)
See you in the pool
Khara x

Russ said...


That was a great race from you, a really good result. I wouldn't let the drafting get to you, know exactly how you feel having raced Clearwater once! My experience at Switzerland last year was similar though I don't tink it was quite so bad.

You gave it your all and got a sub-9:30 for it. Kona can come in Lanzarote next year. Time to work towards that sub-10 goal there. You should take a lot of confidence from what you achieved last week.


lord_lordy said...

I am gutted for you. Thats a terrible way to miss out on qualifying. I heard from people spectating how bad it was. Don't tar all Hawaii Ironmen with the same brush - they don't all qualify through drafting.
Please email the organisers and express your concerns about the race. Also tell everyone you know. Unless these races get seriously bad press they won't correct it. It requires them to have the balls to stop the peletons en masse or move to awarding penalties post race so they can penalise the whole bunch of them. It'll start hitting home if they penalise enough people.

RobQ said...

great stuff as always Tom - didnt realise you had cramping issues on the run, makes your time even more impressive,

Just saw on Twitter you have signed up........Lanza i assume :)

again its been a pleasure to read about both your journeys each Monday morning over brekkie - i've learnt a lot about IM from FWTK and your writing and graduation over the past years has given me a large amount of inspiration - so a big personal thanks from me.

now go sleep for a month - you both deserve it!!

Debra said...


Seriously mate you had an awful lot of friends tracking you and willing you on and you should be proud of being an honest non-cheating athlete who can inspire others as well as you do, and blimey very few of your followers could ever dream of a 9.28 finish or a 3.24 marathon (even stand alone never mind after the swim and the bike)

We in the brown household are oh so proud and so hope you have had a few sleeps after last weeks video, drained is an understatement and you could see that Mr Williams had not left a single drop in his reserve tank.....SO VERY WELL DONE!!! and after all where would we all be without your blog???

Tim said...

Screw them, if the only way they can go sub 9.30 is by cheating then they're not worth the stress of worrying about. Worry only about what you can control, worrying about the rest will only use up energy. You are good enough for a spot and know that WHEN you get it you have earned it in the manner it was intended.
Looking forward to reading about your Lanza build up and qualification adventure.

Ady Stott said...

I've only got 3 words for you about the whole thing NINE TWENTY EIGHT!!!
That'd be more than enough for me to die a happy man.

Broken but not Beaten said...

As Capt. Mainwaring might have said "I bet their eyes are too close together too"

All the best to you Tom.


Jevon said...

we've talked at length and you know what I think but I'll say it again. You're an amazing athlete. You ran a superb race and you did all you could. The only thing you can do to rectify the problem is in the future, not the past. And I know you've got what it takes to put what happened to the back of your mind and re-focus on Lanza '10. You've chosen the right race, you ARE the man, now just go out and SMACK IT.
But remember to RELAX. :)
Huge congratulations on a sensational race.

Tom said...

Guys, what can I say but THANKS SO MUCH FOR ALL YOUR SUPPORT, not only here but ever since this journey began. It's been amazing and although I do feel somewhat gutted that Kona 2009 wont be happening and with a commitment to only one more year of Ironman meaning 2010 will be my last chance, I'm relishing the chance to go out with a bang in 2010.

Hope you come along for the ride,


Anonymous said...

Brilliant Performance Tom. You inspire me to be a better athlete. Your time will come - so for now, relax.....

Tom said...


Thanks :)