Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get this out there, but the therapy has been paying off.
So, having retired from Ironman racing after Kona 2012, here is my Ironman Mallorca race report! Yep, it seems you can’t keep a good man down, or a stupid one, apparently. It was darkest November 2013 when it would appear none of my synapses were firing properly, that I signed up for the recently announced full Ironman in Alcudia, Mallorca. I had been toying with the idea of doing Wales, but then weighed up the options. Wales in September; potentially cold, windy, wet, rough sea swim: or Mallorca; err, no brainer. Add the fact that a mate had already signed up, and the next minute I’m about £400 worse off. However, getting to, and staying in, Mallorca made a lot of sense financially. Believe it or not, the 2 of us sharing a room in a hotel about 3 minutes walk from the finish line, including breakfast, and for 5 nights, cost £230 each including flights. It’s more than that to get across the Severn bridge isn’t it?
We arrived in Alcudia on the Wednesday before the race (race day was Saturday). Within half an hour we were down on the beach for a swim session. Given the weather, we weren’t going to bother with wetsuits, and within 5 minutes of being in the water, we were convinced that it was going to be a non wetsuit swim. The sea was lovely and warm, calm, and crystal clear. Normally I would start to stress about not being able to wear a wetsuit, but it just felt so good to be without neoprene, that I just accepted it immediately, no stress, no worries. Once back at the beach, we stood, pointed, and laughed at those training, dressed head to foot in rubber. Fools.
I’ll give you a brief overview of the course. Race HQ , swim start, and finish line are all on the beach at the north end of the bay. Swim exit is down the beach about 500m and transition is in the street that runs parallel to the beach. The swim is a beach start and consists of a 2500m rectangular lap, short Aussie exit, and a 1300m lap to finish. Transition is vast! Then the bike course is a single loop that heads out towards Arta to the east on a rolling 95k loop before taking you back through town and past transition and heading out north to Pollenca, where you turn back inland and take in the 12km climb to Lluc. Once off the climb, it’s a flatish exposed ride back to town. The run is 4½ laps, pan flat, and takes in boring main road, buzzing town, and beautiful beach path.
Friday, race briefing is on the beach, and the first announcement is one that was no surprise. Non wetsuit swim. I am unusually happy with that. Then the usual stuff including a visual representation of just how far 10m was, just so everyone was clear about the drafting zone on the bike. More about that later. They are marketing this race as ‘Europe’s Kona’ and to be fair, there are comparisons. The water is warm and clear, albeit without the coral and tropical fish, the bike route rolls through a Kona-esque landscape (apart from a fucking great climb in the last half), and the run..well the run was hot, but not Kona hot, but the beach finish did add a rather tropical uniqueness to the day.
With a rather civilised start time of 7:30am, race day alarm went off at a 5:10am. The hotel put on a special early breakfast for all the triathletes, which was a great touch, although almost unwarranted for my standard pre race bowl of rice krispies! Then at 6am, myself and my mate, who I shall refer to as Charles (because that is his name) set off to transition, a 15 minute stroll away. With tyres pumped and equipment checked we then avoided all the queuing for the portaloos by wandering back to our hotel room to get ‘race ready’ in the comfort of our own bathroom! Having attained race weight, we had an easy wander down to the beach for the start where we joined the throng of 2500 other ‘massive idiots’ amassing in the 100m fenced off start zone on the beach. Charles and I wished each other luck and then set about our own warm up routines, nervous chat to strangers, and peeing freely in lycra. I had 2 other friends racing, John and Matt, and as I waited by the shoreline, John tapped me on the back and said hello.
With a separate start time for the pros, we watched them race off before then it was the turn for the rest of us plebs. 7:30am on a calm, warm morning, and we were off. Now I could say the same thing as I usually do about mass swim starts being a huge water brawl, but that would be lazy. The mass start was like a huge water brawl. There’s no getting away from it, it’s just brutal. 2500 people all starting next to each other now want to swim next to each other, in the same bit of water, at the same time. It’s just fucking mental. Take away the relative comfort of a buoyant wetsuit and it becomes even more of a challenge. Unusually for once it appears that we all want to swim in the same direction, roughly, but obviously at different speeds, and soon there is just a massive raft of thrashing limbs closely resembling the bait balls you’re more likely to see on a marine documentary. Taking a long sighting look early on, I can’t contemplate just how I am managing to swim in water, as I can’t see any at all. It’s a long first leg out to the first turn buoy before the pack starts to stretch out and we head on back towards the beach for the short Aussie exit. I am extremely encouraged by the fact that I have avoided too much contact, and in fact, that I haven’t drowned, but my mood is short lived as I enter the water again and immediately take a foot to the face resulting in my goggles being dislodged. No worries, a quick readjustment and I’m heading off on the shorter loop. Although somewhat more civilised now that the pack is spread out, you are never more than an arm width from someone else and you are undoubtedly going to have your feet tickled the whole time. Approaching the shallower waters at the end of the swim, a tickle develops into a grab, and then a full on tug from one of the other competitors. ‘For fuck’s sake we are nearly on the beach, why are you doing that?’ I think to myself before thrashing my feet wildly to get my point across. A few seconds later I stand up and hear Charles saying ‘didn’t you feel me pulling your leg?’ Well, I did, but I didn’t know it was you! It’s mad that Charles had spotted my leg tattoos out of all those people, and that we exited the swim side by side. We later discover that John and Matt came out side by side too, and were 4 seconds in front of us!
Swim time 1:05:01.
Transition is a fairly leisurely 5:09 before I mount my faithful steed. Starting out on fast roads, it is pretty busy as we head out of town. It is hard work trying to keep out of any drafting zones, but that’s the point isn’t it? This is a non drafting race, and always has been. Drafting is out and out cheating as far as I am concerned, and I work damn hard to make sure that I don’t cheat. During the opening miles of a race, congestion is inevitable, but the packs normally stretch out, and I have to say that I have seen very little drafting in any of my previous races. The first half of the bike course is rolling and relatively fast. The weather is just about perfect too, warm but not cooking, and not too much wind. On an early out and back loop, the pro men are heading back against the flow of us age groupers, and for my money, some of them are a bit close to each other. I am generally happiest on the bike, despite the uncomfortable realisation that 112 miles of challenge lay ahead, but I am now becoming aware of a number of competitors that seem to be ignoring the non drafting rules. I’m now about a third of the way through the bike leg and small packs are developing. I am passed by a rider who has another glued to his rear wheel, and another just off the back. Where ever the lead rider goes, his passengers follows, no mistaking, no shame, but blatantly cheating. I’m incensed by this and aim a tirade of abuse in their direction. Spurred on by an adrenaline rush, I repass them, but the effort is not sustainable and after a while I am overtaken once more. The same lead biker seems to be the innocent party, but the same guy, an Italian, is still sat on his wheel. The third member is at least trying to disguise his efforts by drifting in an out of the draft zone, but the Italian is taking the piss. The red mist is descending as I am forced to free wheel and drop back, swearing and gesticulating. My anger, however, is soon rewarded as a motorcycle race referee approaches from behind. He watches for a few seconds and needs no convincing, showing Giovanni, or Antonio, or whatever the hell the guy’s name was, a red card (6min penalty). He remonstrates and shrugs his shoulders a lot. I laugh. Bastard. As I head back to town just over the half way point, small grupettos are forming on the flat landscape. My blood pressure is rising. Passing through Alcudia at 95k, the route heads out to Pollenca on the coast road. Although the road is closed, I stick to the wide cycle lane that is the hard shoulder, focussing on the next rider to tick off a couple of hundred metres in the distance. Next minute, I am passed by what I can only describe as a peleton. I can confidently estimate that there were 30 plus wheel sucking cheats passing me. Young, old, women, some on road bikes instead of TT bikes, all eyes forward and down, none batting an eyelid at the verbal onslaught I was throwing at them. Not one of them looked up, not one of them had an ounce of decency. At this point, I have to concede, any fighting spirit I had for this race left me. Defeatist maybe, but I have morals and standards, and I wasn’t going to compromise them. Now I just wanted to get the day over with, and have a beer. After turning inland at Pollenca, the course winds its way on the climb up to Lluc (that’s pronounced ‘youk’ btw). It’s a scenic but testing 12 km climb, and also temporarily broke up the drafters. Even though I picked up 2 bottles at the foot of the climb, the heat and effort soon left me rationing my supply. Somewhere near the top I spied a steed, unaccompanied, at the side of the road. Its rider was flaked out under a nearby tree. After a longer than anticipated grind up the mountain, we were rewarded with a fast descent through looping hairpins. Not blowing my own trumpet, but I’m a pretty decent bike handler, even on a TT bike, and was thoroughly enjoying the rollercoaster ride, picking up and passing many that had crested before me. Eventually I found a feed station once we had plateaued at the bottom, and grabbed a much needed bottle of Coke (other cola flavoured beverages are available). With 40k to go and back on the flat, the little grupettos formed again. I passed one little group led by a leading age group lady with 3 guys stuck on her wheel and told her about her passengers. I think she thought I was having a go at her though, as she was German. The last 20k or so was into a headwind, just for fun, but thankfully I was soon back in town and heading for T2. Bike split 5:32:17hrs.
Having battled an Achilles problem all year, my run training had been less than optimal. In fact, my total run mileage for the 6 months preceding the race was 286 miles. With that in mind, I was quite happy to trundle through T2 in a sedentary 5:41. As I headed out to start, John was just coming in. He blew past me about a mile into the course, and I shouted some abuse at him! With the finish line about 5k from transition the course was four full laps from T2 plus the half back to the finish. The goal was to keep the heart rate around 155bpm for the majority of time, and then hopefully empty the tank in the last 5k.
As I said at the beginning, the first part of the course is an out and back along the straight main road, which is sole destroyingly monotonous, but does at least give you the opportunity to gauge your progress in relation to those you recognise either ahead or behind you. Charles had a better bike leg than me, and was returning up the street as I was heading down but he wasn’t moving as fast as I thought he would be. I started to wonder whether I could run him down! Once off of the dreaded main road the course I was onto the beach path and running reasonably comfortably. I was, however, aware of an annoying stabbing main in my left Achilles. Not the old injury resurfacing, but the safety pin I had used to ensure my timing chip strap didn’t come undone had opened up and was sticking into me. As I passed the feed station by the harbour, I made the decision to stop and take it out. I almost knew what was going to happen, and low and behold as I bent over, my whole quad went cramp mental on me. Normally, worse case scenario, I’ll make it to half distance before the cramp starts to bite, but now I’m paralysed after only 30 minutes. The spasm lasts for about 2 minutes before I’m able to affect a hobble, but then, as soon as it came, it then went and I was back running at a reasonable pace. I was aware of the residual pain in my muscles though, and from hence forth, every feed station was treated to the site of me ritually shoving large quantities of ice down my lycra. Nice. At the end of the first lap I picked up my band and as I began lap 2, I overtake John. ‘You alright John?’ I ask. ‘Not really, I’m having a bit of a shocker’ came his reply. ‘They’re all shockers John’, I helpfully add. As I head down the main road I pass Charles again. Yes, I’m definitely closer, I’m sure of it. As the course turns back on itself for a second time in the town, I’m reassured that this is the case. End of lap 2, another band, then suddenly the wheels come off. The cramp comes on quickly in calf and hamstrings. A quick stretch will normally sort me out for a mile or so, but I am barely making 100 metres before I’m pulled up again. This is incredibly frustrating, I want to run but the legs just won’t cooperate. I continue as best I can, but the finish line is getting further and further away. Completing lap 3 I see my heart rate is a way down at 125bpm. I’m hardly working, so decide that if I have to stop every couple of hundred metres to stretch anyway, I may as well try to run harder in between. So I pick the pace up and push on. Now I have no idea how this works, but I just keep going without cramping up. So now I’m frightened to stop in case I can’t get going again. I manage the whole of the 4th lap without incident but as I start the last half lap to the finish, fatigue wins and I my cramping legs draw me to a halt. Although I have managed to close Charles down, the gap has stabilised and I now know that I can’t catch him, and all efforts turn to getting the damn race over with. I’m driven on by the thought of ice cold lager waiting for me at the finish, but my legs aren’t playing ball. Still, somehow this weariest of rivers eventually found its way to the sea, or a least to the beach, and after one final stop and stretch and a lot of swearing at myself, I made the right turn into the finish chute, crossing the line in 10:39:41 after a 3:51:33 marathon. I picked up my medal, and headed straight for the bar in the athlete area where I immediately began my post race nutrition plan courtesy of Cruzcampo. My feet were killing me but I couldn’t bend down to take my shoes off as my legs would just spasm me to death, so one very kind and obviously disoriented finisher helped me remove my soaking, stinking trainers before I helped myself to a sun lounger and a few more beers. I knew that Charles had finished ahead of me, so I eventually staggered to my feet and wandered the athlete area in search of him. I eventually found him in the massage tent recounting his race to a Spanish therapist who unfortunately spoke perfect English, poor chap. But fair play to Charles who took 11 minutes off me on the bike and held that gap despite my running a huge 10 seconds faster on the marathon than him.
So final thoughts: A great venue for an Ironman, but the organisers really need to do something about the cheating. During our post race meal we got talking to a Spaniard who was also a victim of the cheats and was as angry as we were. And talking to John later, he put a lot of his stomach issues down to the anxiety caused by the drafting. Serious stuff. So WTC, what are going to do about it? The penalties are not enough of a deterrent as it stands. I think that if you are busted for drafting you immediately lose your right to a Kona slot, and are not given a finish position in the results but you can still have your medal and t shirt. Get done twice, and DQ’d. Just stop bloody cheating!