Friday, 11 August 2017

Into the Fresh Air - Breca Buttermere 2017


It was a race I had been looking forward to all year. A chance to break from the stress and pressure of Ironman racing. A chance to get back to basics and just spend an epic day swimming and running with a mate. Some much needed physical and metaphorical fresh air.

No stress, no expectation, just a great adventure with wifey and some pals

The Breca Buttremere swim run has all I love about sport. A challenging course, beautiful landscapes, breathtaking vistas, a slightly “out there” vibe (running in a wetsuit for goodness sake) and camaraderie by the bucket load.

An impromptu change to my racing calendar would mean that I’d have to toe the line a mere two weeks after completing Ironman UK, my second Ironman event of the year. My race partner Paul “Lunny” Lunn would have an extra week’s recovery on me, having completed Ironman Frankfurt a whole 3 weeks before the start. Slacker.

So while we weren’t the most sprightly pair of competitors on the eve of the event, we vowed to make the most of it and to simply enjoy the day. Certainly, with 38k of knarly fell running and 6k of lake swimming, split over 19 different sections, we were sure to get our “enjoyment” fix.


Lunny and I before departure to the start

Talking tactics in our campsite before race day phrases like “starting steady” and “keeping our powder dry” were offered up with approving nods and copious amounts of tea.

But when you find yourself in 3rd place after the first run section... the red mist has a tendency to descend and the racing inevitably starts!

Who’d have guessed.

Rewind to the start where 100+ neoprene clad pairs gathered in the tipping rain having been driven, by coach, to the start of the new and improved “point to point” course. The route would see us run and swim generally East from our starting point West of Loweswater, linking 3 further lakes (Crummock, Buttermere, Derwent) with a series of fell running sections ranging from 0.3 – 14.5 Kilometers. We’d end up several hours later in Keswick. Thankfully, all the best bits of the 2016 race remained. It was an epic route that organiser Ben had worked tirelessly to secure.

For the race, Paul and I were joined by Claire and her partner Kat. Some weeks before, we had all ventured up to the Lakes for a reccy weekend with Rob Green at the Triathlon Hideaway. But for Rob, Claire and Kat, Brecca Buttermere would be their first official event. The bewildered expressions looked familiar. Paul and I were in the same position last year. Of course we were now both “seasoned pros” having completed a whole “one” Swimrun event before.

Our advice to the newbies was summed up thus.....

Running in a wetsuit kinda sucks...

Swimming in trainers also kinda sucks...

When you’re running, you’ll wish you were swimming...

And when you’re swimming, you’ll wish you were running...

But you are going to absolutely LOVE it!



Before long we were off and it was less than 500 meters before we met our first navigational challenge. A farm gate.


At the sharp end from the off

Reaching the gate in 3rd or 4th we headed straight on, confident in our route choice, only to see the competitors behind us dart left through a gap in the wall. When the teams in front of us decided to follow suit we also had a crisis of confidence and decided to back-track. Confusion ensued before we realised that we’d had it right the first time!

Once back on course we found ourselves in 7th place and happy to settle in to the remains of the opening 4k fell section.

By the time we arrived at Loweswater for the first swim, I was ready for cooling dip. We had both kept our wetsuits fully zipped, swim hats and hand paddles on so were able to rapidly transition to swimming.

7th to 3rd in a heartbeat – boom!

My shoulders felt a little heavy – it would take a while for them to warm up. The first swim was relatively sheltered and, at only 400m, quickly despatched.

Still in 3rd we begun a fast 5k section which featured a number of rolling county lanes. Paul and I were in our element. Lunny was pushing the pace, eager to consolidate our position. I was happy to sit in behind.

“Easy start my arse” I chuckled.


hanging in there

We made ourselves ready as we approached the next swim, a 1k smash across the widest part of Crummock Water, the longest swim of the event. Once away from the shore the conditions became quite challenging. Squall had whipped up waves around us which came crashing over our heads. The rain was being blown on the wind and hitting us sideways like the intermittent spray from large motor boat.

We stayed close together – our swim speed perfectly matched.

This was a crazy stuff but I was loving the challenge that the elements offered.


Crummock delivered some challenging conditions

By halfway we had been passed by the 4th place team who were clearly incredibly strong in the water. They were thriving in the tough conditions and went on to build a decent lead over the 1k leg.

Next up a 2k stretch along the lake. The path was a narrow roller-coaster affair, strewn with boulders, which proved difficult to negotiate, particularly while my head was still spinning from the icy dip we had just completed.

Back into Crummock for 500m and 3rd place were still visible in the distance. We were familiar with the run section which followed and knew it featured an opportunity for us to get back on terms - a tough climb up to the Rannerdale knots.



great views from Rannerdale

As we made our way onto the next run section we were greeted by Kat’s partner Mike, who was supporting for the day. He seemed a little surprised to see us in 4th given that we were “not taking it very seriously”. Yeah right!

A quick refuel and we began the first tough climb. Our familiarity with this leg paid dividends as we were able to steal a march on the team ahead to move back into 3rd place.



keeping fuelled is very important

Over the top and the steep slippery descent that followed showed our weakness. I took several hard tumbles on the greasy pitch and we finished the section back in 4th place, and me with a heavily bloodied right arm and dented ego.

A third dip in Crummock (800m) and our nemeses in 3rd extended their lead with another impressive swim.

The run leg that followed was only short at 2.3k but my head was spinning and I was now struggling to make Lunny’s pace. He was definitely in the groove now and bounding smoothly over the tough, rock littered terrain.



Lunny pushing hard

I popped a caffeine gel and shook my head to try and regain some focus. I knew from bitter experience that I had to keep the fuel going down consistently throughout the day.

We were soon at Buttermere for a lovely 500m swim in it’s calmer crystal clear waters, followed by a high speed dash along the rolling lake shore. Back in for 300m, running for 2k, followed by another 400m – the very essence of swim run. I was feeling much better as we reached the Dalegarth Guest house where we were able to take advantage of another fuel stop.


Tough going - but gonna get tougher

So if the race so far had been the “Starter” and “Amuse Bouche”, what followed next was the certainly the main course...

14.5 kilometers from the flanks of Buttermere, over the Peaks of Robinson, Dale Head and High Spy before a white knuckle descent to Derwent water. An accumulated altitude gain of 1200m.

Less altitude is gained running up Snowdon.

The first mile of this section is allegedly the steepest in all of Swimrun. And as my Garmin showed just over 30 minutes as it beeped to signal the mile split... I could well believe it!

Too steep for any team to run, a death march is really as good as it gets. At it’s worst we were using the field boundary fence as a banister to pull us ever skywards.

The ridge line from Robinson to Dale Head included a number of cruel rocky descents and numerous false summits before a final killer quad busting drop to the Dale Head Tarn. It was on these technical downhill sections that our lack of fell running skill (and recent Ironman fatigue) became abundantly clear. We had to concede 3 places here and there was precious little we could do about it without risking life and limb.

The only positive was that Paul and I were now equally shagged. I was able to push the pace on the climbs and Paul took the baton on the descents.

The final climb of High Spy gave way to a glorious view of Derwent Water. The final 4 sections of the race, and the finish line itself in Crow Park, stretched out into the distance. The descent was now soft underfoot and within the limits of our limited technical ability and dwindling strength. We pushed on at a solid pace to the penultimate swim, a 600m halfway crossing of Derwent Water to St Herberts Island.

As we ran toward the shore we saw the team we had been vying with all day in the distance. Lunny’s pace visibly increased – he just can’t help himself! We knew that their swimming ability would see them distance themselves once again, but there was honour at stake and we passed them as we entered the water. As suspected, they quickly passed us again but it was motivating to know that we were still in close quarter with the top teams.

The water was a welcome relief as our temperatures had risen significantly during the last run. A welcome relief soon became chilly and so I pressed on in an attempt to keep warm. Unbeknown to me, I’d distanced myself from Lunny during the crossing and arrived on St Herbert’s Island in a panic with no sign of my partner. Believing Paul to be ahead I dashed off into the dense, wooded interior of the island. Arriving on the other side with still no sign of Paul! Shit!

Seconds later Lunny arrived behind me, having wondered why I had decided to try and drop him during the island dash! Soz mate!

We were in the finishing straight now – “dessert” if you will. But the kind of dessert you face when you’ve already made a pig of yourself during your main course. Like a massive piece of sticky toffee pudding...


With syrup.


It was a toughy. A 900m choppy struggle before a 1k dash to the finish-line. The wind had churned the water into draining swell. White horses... The full works. Waves seemed to be crashing over our heads and then pulling us back from our direction of travel. The exit flag was all but invisible in the distance and with no intermediate markers we just got our heads down and battled on.

After what seemed like an eternity, the exit beach finally came into view but took many more minutes to reach. At long last we tentatively pulled ourselves onto the shore, our sea legs struggling to function as supports. The effort from the long 14.5 run leg followed by a 1500m “ice bath” had rendered them useless.


toughest swim saved until the end

We hobbled along the pebbly shore, heads spinning and legs complaining from the cold.

We slowly coerced our limbs back into action and managed to regain some semblance of running just in time to receive the applause from the many bemused tourists gathered around Crow Park. A final left turn and we were into the finish chute.



into the finish cute

We crossed the line in 6hrs 18 minutes and 7th place.

The gaps behind us were quite large, but we would only have to cheer another 2 teams before Claire and Kat sprinted into view in 10th overall and 1st place in the women’s race. A total time of 6hrs 59 minutes and 17 minutes clear of the next female pairing. An incredible debut performance.



awesome performance from Claire and Kat

Rob and partner Ben were going great guns and were still on terms with Claire and Kat at the end of the Dale Head leg. The last two swim stints had tested their mettle to see them finish in 22nd place.

The finish line had a wonderful carnival atmosphere. Tunes and laughter filled the air. Before long there were a steady stream of teams finishing. Every pair crossing the line with the kind of smiles that only swim run can produce.

Finishers were able to soak up the sun, enjoy hot soup and share war stories. I’m not sure you experience this strange combination of exhaustion, happiness and contentment in any other branch of multi-sport. It’s quite wonderful.

They say a problem shared is a problem halved.


I think it’s fair to say an experienced shared is an experienced doubled.


tired but happy

Race organiser Ben de Rivas, his team, the volunteers and Breca Buttermere Swimrun delivered again. Lunny was as dependable (and competitive) as ever. Like I expected anything less. I can’t think of a better person to spend 6 hours swimming and running with.

Fancy another “steady” one next year mate?









Kit

Both Paul and I used the Huub Amphibia Swimrun Wetsuit. They performed perfectly over the challenging course offering plenty of ventilation and zero chaffing, swimming or running.

https://huubdesign.com/collections/wetsuits/products/huub-amphibia-swimrun-wetsuit

We opted for Inov-8 X-Talon 190 – Great shoes. Light grippy and quick draining.

https://www.inov-8.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=x+talon

A Huub Swim Buoy went some way to offsetting the extra drag from the shoes.

We also both used hand paddles – I’m still undecided on this. For me I think I’m marginally quicker, but they are quite fatiguing over 6k of swimming. Practice in training is a must for any would be Swimrunner.

I used a “Flip-Belt” to carry nutrition – A great bit of kit for anyone struggling for a solution to carrying keys, phones or nutrition when training – check them out!

https://flipbelt.co.uk/





Photo credit

Massive big up to all the hardy professional photographers out on the course. As an entrant you get free access to literally 100's of the most creative race photos you will ever see. Puts other races to shame. 

















Friday, 4 August 2017

Kona Qually Take 2...... Ironman Bolton

Anyone who knows me would have told you...


They’d have told you “Bollocks”...


Bollocks that I’d “leave my 2017 Kona campaign at just one race if things didn’t work out at Lanzarote”.

None of my friends actually said it... Ok a few did, but they all knew it.

And they were right.

Much as it was genuinely my intention to NOT wind up chasing Kona Qualification all year long, I couldn’t leave it after just one near miss. I had to give it “just one more” roll of the dice. Back on the horse and all that jazz.

It’s the classic behaviour of any addict.

Ironman UK seemed the obvious choice. It still had entries and I could do it with minimal time off work and less expense than another overseas trip.

A quick consult with coach and I had the green light and a plan. Recovery and then maintenance of my current fitness was the goal. No heroics needed.

I had a few other races to squeeze in, all with the intention of keeping me sharp. Some time trials, a local Oly and a bike leg in a 70.3 relay offered me some low stress fun with my race team “Race Hub”.

I’d scheduled in a few key training sessions as well.

I ventured up north the accept the kind offer of a guided tour of the bike course by the king of Bolton himself Brian “Foggi” Fogarty. Man that guy can ride a bike. Something every single Pro athlete would discover on race day!

We had a weekend of running in mountains and swimming in crystal clear lakes with Rob Green and his lovely wife Sarah at the “Triathlon Hideaway” in the Lake District. My kind of therapy. I’d signed up to race the Breca Buttermere Swimrun, which would now fall alarmingly 2 weeks after Bolton. So this was a chance to reccy some of the new route with team mate Paul (Lunn) and introduce Claire and her partner Kat (Berry) to the joys of running in a wetsuit and swimming in trainers! A total breath of fresh air – both physically and metaphorically.

Alan Murch’ stepped up again, this time by organising a trip to the Derby Velodrome for a few hours consulting with the “pharaoh of aero” Dan Bigham. A handful of free watts were duly bagged and Murch’s legend status cemented.

To restore some confidence in my swimming I had a stroke analysis session with Chris Hine (Pure Performance Coaching). We tweaked my stroke to better suit the open water and it worked wonders.

I’d spent some time pouring over the results from the last few years of IMUK and it seemed that a performance similar to the one I’d delivered in Lanza would all but guarantee me a spot at Kona. And the course at IMUK is easy by comparison to Lanza right?

Right?

It’s a dangerous game basing the level you need to attain on past results though...

A race with a “soft target” one year, suddenly becomes ├╝ber competitive the year after as word spreads and would be Kona Qualifiers swarm to the start line, from far and wide, in the hope of an easy Kona in.

Having cast my eye over the start list I’d identified several quality GB athletes who would make my life hard. Additionally, a few overseas athletes had appeared on the start list. That’s always cause for concern with Bolton not being your typical race for foreign Ironman box-tickers. A bit of Google stalking revealed several with impressive palmares that would almost certainly be in Bolton looking for Kona Qualification.

IMUK would be no cake walk this year but I felt in a positive frame of mind and my mojo was definitely back.

It was in stark contrast to how I’d felt going in to Lanza. The pressure was still there in the weeks before Bolton, but I felt like I was rising to it, rather than buckling under it.

In the build up to race day I was consciously taking a different approach. Controlling the controllables and not sweating the small stuff. Having got myself so wound up in Lanzarote, I’d decided to treat Bolton like just another domestic race. I’d knock off work and drive up north a few days before, race hard, finish top 4, qualify for Kona and go back to work.

Simple.

But things are rarely that simple.

I executed the first part of my plan pretty well. I arrived in Bolton on Friday at about 5pm. Just enough time to register and get back to my “Premier Inn” to embrace my inner Alan Partridge (large plate in hand).

Mum was joining me for the weekend, although she had booked into a nearby hotel that accepted guests of the four legged variety as well! We met up for supper and made a plan for the next few days.

On Saturday morning I had a short swim session to do so ventured to Pennington Flash which was only a few miles down the road. Everything felt normal, familiar and very British.

Cold? Check...

Grey? Check...

Raining? Check...


Swim Reccy - Rain ever present

The conditions didn’t phase me. I knew they would play to my advantage on race day. I felt relaxed and happy.

I bumped into a few friends including the ball of energy that is Nikki Bartlet. That girl is a real tonic and you can’t help but feel energised in her company.

Once into the Flash, I felt great – it was the perfect temperature and wonderfully calm as I knocked out two shortened swim laps.

The remainder of the day was spent with the tedious logistics of setting up two transition areas and race briefing etc... Not the ideal prep, but needs must.

Finally back at the Premier Inn I was now ready to chill. Claire was driving up from Leicester and would be joining me soon. I couldn’t wait for her to arrive.

IMUK has a typically British start time of 6:00am. This meant a 3:00am alarm call to get my breakfast down before heading to the Flash in the pre-dawn murk. I hadn’t slept much but was happy that I was well rested going into the race, so that didn’t worry me.

It was still dark as we trudged from the car-park to the race venue. Electricity generators buzzed in the far distance. I could see the skies were gloomy and rain looked set in for a good chunk of the morning. Control the controllables I repeated to myself.

The vibe at the Flash was fairly chilled when Claire and I arrived. I popped quickly into transition to inflate tyres and sort my nutrition. I didn’t fancy hanging around to get wound up.

The unmistakable tones of Paul Kaye crackled over the tannoy. As he introduced the pros I got myself into my wet-suit and joined the appropriate swim pen for the rolling start.

I opted for the 55:00 – 60:00 minute zone and quickly found some friends for a natter.

The pros were soon underway and we followed some 5 minutes later.

This was it. The last chance saloon.

As I ran onto the start pontoon I was cheered by Claire, Mum and George (the boarder terrier). I stopped for a quick smooch (with Claire, not the dog) before crossing the timing mat to start my day.


Claire and George supporting the swim

The water seemed calm and I instantly found completely clear water. This was incredible. I’d had worse biff in my morning pool sessions! I was passing people from the off and nobody was coming past me. You gotta LOVE rolling starts. I just felt at ease. Chris Hine... you are a genius.

I moved from feet to feet. Feeling smooth and controlled. I sensed I was swimming comfortably at sub 60 minute pace and it felt easy. “This is more like it” I mused.

Glancing at my watch at the end of the first lap, I was a little surprised to see 30 minutes had already ticked by. Claire and Mum were waving frantically but their cheers were quickly stifled as I jumped back into the Flash eager to begin lap 2 and try to up my pace.

I hit a little more congestion the second time round. It had taken almost 30 minutes to get all athletes into the water and we were now weaving through the back markers. No major bother though, I was able to thread my way though and was soon pulling myself up onto the pontoon to complete the swim.

I was buzzing!


Much happier than Lanzarote


I glanced at my watch and instantly had the wind taken out of my sails. ANOTHER 1:03 swim?? Eh? What gives? That had to be a long swim.

After conferring with friends after the race, my suspicions had been confirmed with the course measuring maybe an extra 200m.

The rain was coming down pretty hard as I ran toward the change tent. I was trying to decide how much kit to put on. I figured my sleeved tri-suit would be enough but I opted for arm warmers as the air felt cool. Pulling the tight fitting Lycra over wet skin cost me a little time but I knew I had made the right decision as I left on my bike and the wind-chill hit.

More cheers from Claire and Mum and I was on my way for the opening section that links to the main loop.

Race power felt easy. Maybe we had a tail wind. Even still, I had to force myself to obey my power meter and resist the urge to go with the overeager pace being set by the riders who were passing me. The run was where I’d hoped to do the damage.

I settled into a comfortable pace and it wasn’t long before I was starting the main loop (which would be ridden twice). Not much later the first challenge of the day arrived – the climb of Sheep House Lane.

I’d tackled this climb in similar conditions during my reccy ride with Foggy. Though on that occasion I’d left my front eTap battery on charge back in Leicester, so had grovelled up in the big ring. Today, with the luxury of a 39 chainring at my disposal, it presented no real problems and was efficiently dispatched to the cheers of a crowd of overexcited Mexican wrestlers (you had to be there).

The decent was fast, furious and scary in equal measure.

The A675 from Belmont to Roddlesworth had been a fantastic wind assisted blast on my reccy. Today it was a demoralising block head wind grovel.

And that set the tone for the remainder of the lap.....

Flying one minute... grovelling the next. Braking for sharp corners... accelerating out of them. The descents, when they came, were so slick with rain that I struggled to make back the time I was losing on the tougher sections. The roads were typically British and nowhere could I really settle into a rhythm. It’s a super challenging course that really suits the punchy rider.

The kind of rider I’m not.

Into the second lap and I was feeling the affects of the constant spikes in power. The climbs of Sheep House lane and High Moor seemed significantly steeper this time round. My legs were pretty toasted.

I was also coming across a significant number of draft packs who seemed happy to work together. Indeed, I’d spent a good 10 miles of lap 2 towing a small train who would then blast passed me, only to slow down when they felt the effects of the wind.

I didn’t have enough matches left to risk pushing into the red to drop the trains, so resigned myself to coming of the gas and letting them go off and do their thing. Their was no way I was joining them on their immoral crusade. Sadly I didn’t see a single draft buster all day so I’m convinced a good many of these riders would have gained significant advantage from their antics.

The last 10 miles were wind assisted and I felt some energy returning to my legs. As the weather had been cool for most of the ride, I hadn’t felt the need to drink all that much. I wasn’t worried about my state of hydration, but liquids is also how I get my calories on the bike and I was a little concerned that I’d under fuelled. I did my best to drain what was left on my bike in the closing miles – A decision I’d later regret.

Coming into the Macron Stadium I glanced at my power meter. NP of 251 watts. Holy hell.

That was high for me. A tad too high for my liking. While I’d tried to ride conservatively, those hills and all those accelerations had clearly affected my numbers.

Jumping off the bike I didn’t feel too bad, save for a bit of worrying discomfort in my gut. I was really starting to wish I hadn’t sunk so much liquid in the last 10 miles of the bike.

If I just started steady I thought, I could let the nutrition work it’s way through and I’d surely benefit from it later in the race.

Starting steady is easier said than done on the Bolton course since the run climbs tortuously through a housing estate for the first mile or so.

As I began my marathon I spotted Claire and the Liveseys Mark and Caroline who were going bananas on the road side.




Claire with one of her famous signs


12th Dunc!! 12th in your Age-Group!!

Ok I thought, far from ideal... But I can do this.

I knew there were several strong bikers in my Age-Group. When they’d come past me during the ride I noted that they didn’t look like runners. But right now, I didn’t feel much like a runner either. Normally I run pretty well off the bike, but today my legs felt destroyed. The bike had taken it’s toll and my guts were doing somersaults.

It didn’t phase me though – I still felt positive and was happy just trotting along at 7 minute pace waiting... hoping... for my legs to come good.

If I’m honest, they took their sweet time and I was left wondering, on more than one occasion, if two Ironmen in two months was going to prove a bridge too far.

Thankfully though, once onto the main loop I was starting to find my rhythm. The downhill run into Bolton allowed me to rally myself for the meat of the course – the 3 full laps that followed.

Claire, mum and my other supporters had now decamped to Bolton and were waiting for me at the end of the loop in town.

10th Dunc! Mark yelled. Things were moving in the right direction and I felt like I could start to attack the course.


Through the centre of town


The main out and back loop is about 9k. The out leg is a cruel uphill slog with the return to Bolton town centre offering a brief chance to stretch the legs before the slog returns.

Coming back into town for the second time, more on course support.. 8th Dunc – Looking strong! (Cheers Alistair)

One full lap down... two to go.

I was feeling it now. Typically, the sun had now come out, but there was enough shade on the run to offer periodic respite. Bolton is no Lanzarote of course, but I was still needing to douse myself with water at every aid station to keep cool. Mercifully, the nutrition was now going down well and, while I felt less than stellar, I knew it was important to keep fueling – even if I didn’t much feel like it.

The second lap tested me. I was starting to suffer. I drew strength from the Pros on the course. Lucy G was leading but looking like she was having to dig deep into the hurt locker to hold off a very fast moving Diana Riesler in second. Nikki was looking like she could run through walls in 3rd and even had time to offer me a few words of encouragement. Not sure where Will Clark was in the men’s race – but he was hooning!

I just had to hang in there, keep moving forward and minimise time lost at the aid stations.

End of lap 2 and 7th place confirmed by my cheer leaders!


another lap down and moving through the field


Something pretty weird happened on my final lap. My mind wandered back to Lanzarote and the negative head-space I’d found myself in back then.

It wasn’t happening today. I was going to batter this last lap.

My legs felt like lumps of wood. But I had energy and, perhaps more importantly, the desire to keep pushing.

And I was going to push... for every single second of the last lap.

I don’t remember much about it... Except for the last 2 miles where I just seemed to get faster and faster. I weaved though fading runners as I entered the last mile at what felt like a sprint.

I ran straight through aid stations... only grabbing water to throw over my head. Calories weren’t going to help me now.

I felt like I was running a 5k.


Final bend


Into the finish chute, over the line..... and onto the deck.


Duncan Shea-Simonds 6th M40-45


4 Kona spots in my Age-Group meant it would be another anxious wait until roll-down.


In a cruel twist of fate, moments later I was relegated to 7th in my Age-Group after a fast finishing American crossed the line. Although finishing behind me, he’d obviously STARTED behind me as well (1:07 swim), but recorded a faster overall time by 38 seconds!

How could I possibly deal with losing a Kona spot by 38 seconds.

I had to feel positive though. I’d truly emptied the tanks and if that’s how my Kona campaign was to end, then I could be satisfied knowing I’d given it my all.



The legend Paul Kaye post race - all smiles


Over beer and Pizza with, Claire, Caroline and Mark, we analysed the results.

I was pretty sure that Mark in 1st and Joe in 3rd would not be taking their Kona spots this year.

I felt the Belgian and the American would almost certainly take theirs. I couldn’t see them coming to Bolton for any other reason (sorry Bolton).

That left two other Brits. One of which had to turn down their spot to give me the golden ticket.

I had a nervous wait ahead and I’ll be honest... I wasn’t full of confidence.

The following day I’d resigned myself to my fate. I headed back to the Macron Stadium primarily to watch the prize giving and support all the amazing performances from the day before.

Claire had ventured back to Leicester in the small hours as she had to return to work, but Mum (and George) were still with me.

Mum is one of my most loyal supporters. She travels to races with Claire and me and suffers the emotional ups and downs right along with us. She wanted me to qualify for Kona so badly. Almost as much as I did I reckon. She was noticeably subdued at the presentation – perhaps at the realisation that it was highly unlikely to happen today.

Before heading into the presentation, I stole a few words with Brett from Skechers. Brett has supported Race Hub from the early days. Skechers are now sponsoring the European Ironman Tour as well as such notable athletes as Lionel Saunders, Anja Beranek, Lucy Gossage and Nikki Bartlett. That they still have time for an ageing Age-Grouper is humbling. I desperately wanted to do Brett and Skechers proud so headed to roll down to meet my fate!

Mum and I watched as athlete after athlete went up to claim their spot. It’s wonderful watching individuals claiming their Kona spots.

You have the serial Kona Qualifiers, impressively winning their Age-Groups by country miles, who casually collect their Hawaiian leis with little emotion. Yeah whateva.

Then those who are clearly finally fulfilling a life long dream – wiping back tears as they have their photo taken by a proud loved one.

All the while I’m thinking 38 f***ing seconds... Please... It can’t come down to 38 seconds. It made me sick to think about it.

And soon enough it was time for Paul Kaye to announce my Age-Group.




“First place Mark Laithwait” Pass. As expected.

Still 4 spots remaining.



“Second place Nicholas Clarry” (One of two Brits who I needed to turn their spot down)

He jumped to his feet with a “Yes!” the moment the first syllable of his first name was called.

Balls! – 1 down, 3 spots left.



“Third place Joe Duckworth” Pass. No Surprise.

Still 3 spots left, but still 3 athletes in front of me. It was slipping away.



“Fourth place Scott Whittlestone”..... Silence

Holy shit...

“Scott Whittlestone?”..... Paul repeated

Don’t stand up.. Don’t stand up!!

“Scott?”.... “Ok, so no Scott, still 3 spots left”



The maths was simple, but my brain must have done the arithmetic 20 times in the 10 seconds that followed.

Hang on... 3 places left... 2 athletes in front of me.


Shit... I was going to Kona.


I had to wait for two more spots to be allocated and, as expected, the Belgian and the American both claimed theirs.


I would take the last spot.



I had to feel for the German guy behind me. 2 minutes and 43 seconds adrift.

He’d swam 7:32 quicker than me and our bikes rides were separated by 2 seconds!

I’d run 8:10 quicker though and suspected that I’d caught him on that last lap when I’d found my second wind. I knew better than anyone how he'd now be feeling.



I did it! Texting friends and chatting with Brett


Say what you want about Kona qualification but for the most part it continues to be hard and closely fought. My success or failure came down to less than 0.5% in the end.

To all my friends and family who offered advice and encouragement before the event, found me seconds in the pool or watts on the bike, supported me with equipment and cheered me on the course. I owe you big time. It wouldn’t have happened without you – it’s as simple as that.

And to Scott Whittlestone, the guy who wasn’t at roll down to collect his spot, who I later learned had already qualified at Ironman South Africa. The first beer is on me in Kona mate.

Everyone needs a bit of luck in this game.




In Part 1 of my Kona Qualification blog I asked the question “Is the final result alone worth all the stress and anxiety?”

I suppose the answer is.... “it depends”.

Ultimately, it depends on how much that final result means to you personally. The final result for me in this case was the opportunity to join my wife Claire and a number of dear friends on the beach in Kona as a competitor. And it meant a lot... A whole lot.

But here’s the rub. As well as those personal reasons for wanting to achieve something, there is also satisfaction in achieving something which is hard fought. And I believe that the fight is an essential part of the ultimate reward and sense of achievement. The reward, and the effort required to achieve it, are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other.

Or to coin a phrase... “without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain't as sweet”

And this will be different for everyone. Even if the result is the same.

A sub 20 minute park run might mean the world to someone. Kona Qualification might mean nothing to another.

But the moment I got my final result... the hardship it took for me to achieve it evaporated in a heart beat. The lump in my throat and the welling in my eyes told me how much it meant to ME.

So yes... all the stress and anxiety was 100% worth it.

Will I keep doing it? Probably not.

Because without the end result... it’s just isn’t worth it. The process itself isn’t enough any more.

I’ve experienced some incredible races in my time and there are many more adventures out there which are no less challenging (and plenty that are more so) than Ironman triathlon.

There are races which have an intrinsic pleasure and enjoyment that I’ve missed in recent years. They are worth doing just because they just are... not because of where you finish, or what time you do, or how many people in an arbitrary 5 year age band cross the finish line before you do.

So after 2017 I’m hanging up my Kona swim skin and heading off to find different and enjoyable sporting challenges (triathlons included of course!)

I reckon Kona and me are done – but it’s been something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.


And I know what you’re all thinking....




That Duncan... he doesn’t half talk bollocks!










Massive thanks to everyone who has helped me this year....


Race Hub
Jack Maitland - The Triathlon Coach
Skechers Perfomance
Giant Bikes
Huub Wetsuits
CEP Compression
High 5 Nutrition
The Tri Hideaway
Pure Performance Coaching
Watt Shop
Performance Chef - Alan Murchison

My amazing wife Claire - who helps me dream big
My Awesome Mum
My brilliant training buddies

And George the wonder dog






Monday, 31 July 2017

Kona Qualification 2017 - A Tale of Two Races

Goals are important in sport.... critical in fact.

Without a goal, you really can’t decide how much discomfort you need to put yourself through in training.... or how many sacrifices you need to make.

2017’s goal was to qualify for Kona so I could join Claire on the start line, after she'd qualified in Tenby last year.

Goal set...

Discomfort? Probably lots.

Sacrifices? Most likely many.

Would it be worth it? I really hoped so.

I’d earmarked Ironman Lanzarote as my qualification race. I’d always followed the “better the devil you know” school of Ironman Kona qualification and since I’d raced (and narrowly missed qualification) at Lanza before, I knew what would be required. More importantly I knew that, given a solid race, Kona qualification was within my ability.

So just the small matter of getting myself into the shape required and my coach Jack Maitland had that one covered.

Easier said than done of course. Lanza being early season requires all those key endurance training sessions to be completed through a British winter. Which always adds a cold, miserable and often soggy dimension to Ironman preparation. Glamorous it ain’t.

I was lucky this year though. I think the purgatory of a 5 hour Wattbike session was only suffered on one occasion, with the weather at all other times never being sufficiently biblical to stop play (AKA suffering) on the roads. Some great club rides with the Race Hub crew went some way to making the winter miles tolerable.

I’d had 2 weeks of glorious respite with a great training trip to Mallorca which bought my final preparations to a tired but satisfied conclusion. With two taper weeks back in the UK to sharpen the saw.

The only fly in the ointment was my lack of racing up to this point. I didn’t have the luxury or opportunity so Lanza would be my season opener.

I’d had so much support from friends and family leading into this race. My main Mallorca training buddy (and fine athlete) Alan Murchison had sent me a super fast chain for race day and many others had expressed their belief in me to get the job done. It felt like all the boxes had been ticked and any marginal gains secured.


Bike with super fast chain and shallow front wheel for the cross winds

Maybe this was why, going into the race, I felt more nervous than usual. There was really no reason for a poor performance.

Or to put another way... No excuse.

I’d tried to get my head around (and a grip on) my nerves heading into the race, but if I’m honest, I really let the occasion get the better of me.

I’d told myself (and others) that I would not “chase” Kona qualification this year. If things didn’t work out at Lanza, I’d walk away and join Claire in Kona as a tourist not an athlete (hold that thought)

But the fact remained that I wanted a result REALLY badly and this self imposed “one shot” pressure had started to suck the joy out of the event and the few days leading up to it.

It was only by pretending I was on “holiday” with Claire and Mum, that I was able to avoid going completely stir crazy.

A big part of triathlon for me has been the opportunity to travel and share the experience with friends and family. With the pleasure part of the equation missing in action, I found myself asking some searching questions. If there isn’t any enjoyment... what’s the point? Is the final result alone worth all the stress and anxiety? For now, I didn’t have the answers, but I did have a race to do.

And things didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts...

The swim was brutal. That came as no surprise. It was savage the last time I raced at Lanza and nothing had changed since. Still a mass start, still very little space on the beach and still a turn a few hundred meters from shore. All of which creates mayhem.

This year was made even worse by the organisers deciding to let the “All World Athletes” (AWA) start behind the Pros and in front of the fastest Age-Group swimmers.

This would be a great idea if AWA status was awarded on swimming ability.

Except it isn’t. You get points simply for completing multiple races. Like a Tesco Club Card for Ironman.

Unsurprisingly, carnage ensued.

After 10-15 minutes of near drowning I was losing my sense of humour.


“This is crap”...

“Why am I doing this?”...

“Jeez Dunc – man up and get stuck in!”...


I pressed on swimming wide, simply to avoid the melee and find clear water. The end of the swim could not come soon enough. I was 1:03 out of the water. Slower than I’d cruised in training earlier that week, but still very much in the game.

Glad that's over!
Onto the bike and I was a little happier. More at home with wheels beneath me.

My spirits were buoyed as I rounded the El Golfo coast – easily the most beautiful part of the course for me. I had some cloud cover, the wind on my back and ribbon smooth black top to enjoy.


El Golfo Coast
Power felt good – this was more like it.

A half smile broke my grimace.

But once back into the barren interior of Lanzarote, the wind, heat and mountains begun their steady, unrelenting erosion of my spirit once more. The wind reduced my speed to demoralising levels so I focussed on power throughout the bulk of the ride.

Me... the wind... the heat and 3 little digits on my bike computer. My entertainment for the next 4 hours.

Inside the last 15 miles, the Nazaret road really was the final straw. The roughness of this particular stretch of hell is farcical. Littered with ejected drinks bottles and bits of bike it brings grown men to their knees.



The high speed decent back to Puerto Del Carmen lifted my moral a little but even this was tempered by the unrelenting winds that had been cruelly switching direction all day, threatening to send me into the jagged lava fields and making an already tough day even tougher.

I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and was actually looking forward to the marathon. It’s probably become my strength in more recent years. I knew that from here on, I’d be moving up through the field.

A swift transition and I was out of the change tent like a scolded cat, clipping along the scorching promenade like a crazy fool.

First 3 miles all sub 7:00

Woah there Dunc!! You’re an ok runner but you’re not that good!

My mercury was rising. I needed to chill my jets and get on top of my nutrition. Looking down, my gels had all parted company with my race belt. Great. It would be Coke and Red-Bull for me from here on.


On to the run - Mercury Rising

Training through the British winter (and the tan I’d acquired) had done little to prepare me for the rising temperatures I now faced. With the drink stations being further apart than I would have liked, my thermostat was now kicking in. I had to moderate my efforts and hope that those around me were suffering as much, hopefully more, than me.

In the heat, I’ve learned there really is little point in fighting or ignoring it. Speed has to be moderated. It dents the ego but you can’t cheat your biology. Heat requires cooling and cooling requires that precious resources be directed AWAY from the muscles used for locomotion.

I was moving through the field though thanks in no small part to the tremendous support from Claire and Mum who would pop up at opportune moments around the course and make sure I kept trucking.



Awesome support as ever from Claire

The first loop was a lonely 30k vigil out to Arrecife and back. Save for the pros on their way back, I saw barely anyone. I cheered Lucy C, Lucy G and Corrine who were all looking super strong.

I took solace from the fact that those around me seemed to be suffering in the conditions. My run training always includes lot of high quality sessions at 10k and 5k pace. As such, on a flat course, I can truck along at sub 8:00 pace on fumes. But I just didn’t have the heat tolerance to lift things to the level needed for the run split I wanted and knew was in me.

Claire was unable to give me much intel on my position within my age-group as the on-line tracker was being typically sporadic. I’d estimated that I was inside the top 10 but probably not close enough to the sharp end to guarantee a qualification spot.

My moral dropped and I fought to keep negative thoughts from entering my head.

I was soon joined by an excited young Spanish supporter who ran along side me clapping and shouting encouragement. Several minutes later he was still there! He meant well but his high pitched screeching was wearing thin and I desperately needed some silence in which to focus. So the poor lad eventually found himself on the receiving end a subtle hand-off.

So this race had now reduced me to to somebody who assaults children – great.

The 2nd (12k) lap passed without much drama as I chugged along at my heat induced top end. I crossed the line with a 3:28 marathon and 10th in AG.


Run Finish

It had been a hot, slow run day but I’d suffered less than many. My run split was quicker than 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th in my AG, but I’d hemorrhaged time on the bike. And that had cost me dearly.

I was glad to have held things together for another tough Ironman finish but I was left feeling more than a little deflated at my final position.

While happy that I’d “got it all out” in the conditions, I still felt disappointed that I was over 20 minutes off the pace of the top 5. Mind you, one of those was an Ex-Olympian triathlete Dennis Looze and he only managed 3rd. And the winner was a ludicrous 20 minutes clear of second place!

Factoring out the top end “pro-botherers” in my Age-Group, the rest of us were fairly tightly bunched. The three M45-M49 athletes who finished in front of me were all within 3 minutes of my finish time. The next 3 behind all 4 minutes adrift. 7 minutes covering 7 athletes after over 10 hours of racing. I could take some solace in the fact that I was in the same ballpark - rather than just playing the same sport. And on another day things may have worked out differently.

Make no mistake. The top AG guys are fast and competition for Kona spots is close and fierce. The top 3 guys (and girls) in most age-groups are now in a different league to the rest, leaving everyone else, closely packed and fighting for the scraps. I knew with only 5 Kona spots in my AG I needed a miracle.

I’ve seem miracles happen though and I knew I had to attend roll-down the following day.

With several pre-qualifiers in the category and a few others passing up their spots, the final qualifying spot rolled down to 9th. I remember the guy well. We’d spent most of the marathon together, vying for position. He’d pushed on inside the last 5 miles while I was at my lowest ebb. I remembered thinking that a few minutes were probably academic. I won't make that mistake again.

He’d finished 2 minutes and 2 seconds ahead of me to claim the final spot.

I was kicking myself.

I thought.... “screw Ironman” and “screw Kona”.

But deep down I knew... I couldn’t end my 2017 Kona campaign here.....




To be continued.......

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Ironman Barcelona – A Guides Perspective

My mum, bless her, was doing her best to calm Haseeb’s obvious anxiety...

Has’ and I had just spent 15 minutes being tossed around in the breakers, that had been smashing aggressively onto Calella’s coarse, golden sand which was now safely back beneath our feet.

“The waves sound so much worse than they actually are buddy and it’s forecast to be calmer tomorrow” added Claire, doing her best to sound sincere.

“It’s actually very calm once you are out past the breakers Has” urged Martin cheerfully. 

“Tomorrow Hasseb I think you should just relax in the swim and don’t worry about the World Record” Mum said calmly..



Then I chucked in my 2 pennnies..... “Yeah... but don’t hang about tomorrow mate... We’ve not come here for a free rucksack...” 


I’m such a bastard..


Post Swim practice de-brief

It was kinda tongue in cheek, but at the same time I didn’t want to sugar the pill.

I’d be guiding Has’ on race day and I’d need to keep him motivated throughout many hours of racing.

I’d need to keep him running when he wanted to stop (and EVERYONE wants to stop running in an Ironman). I’d prepared myself to be pretty unpopular on race day. The physical incarnation of the psychological “will” needed to complete an Ironman.

I didn’t see any point in going all soft on Haseeb now. We were here to break the record for the Fastest Ironman completed by a blind athlete.

I knew that...

Has’ knew that..

And we both knew that, after that short dip, it was going to be monumentally tough.

Even I’m not completely heartless though and I’ll confess to feeling a tinge of guilt since this entire venture was largely my idea.

After Has’ discovered that his visually impaired category (PT5) would not be contested at the Rio Paralympics, it was my bright idea for Haseeb to have a crack at the Ironman. And if we are going to do an Ironman tied together, then we are gonna try and beat the World Record... Right?


Right Haseeb?



Yeah! *High five*.



The current World Record stood at 11hrs 10 minutes and 28 seconds. Well within Haseeb’s physical ability. But as every Ironman knows it’s a dangerous game working out an Ironman finishing time on paper. Particularly with little more than Olympic distance and straight marathon times on which to base it.

We selected Ironman Barcelona as it offered a fast, tandem friendly course and a full season to prepare. Throughout the year Haseeb really put the work in. Another fast marathon and some strong 70.3 races indicated that the record was doable, but like all long course athletes Has’ had to walk the fine line between training enough and nursing niggles which would crop up along the way. Many of Haseeb’s brilliant guides (Chris, Rupert, Kieron and others) helped during his preparations – but a big chunk of the work was completed on his own with many tedious hours spent training INDOORS.

Here, both the treadmill and the Wattbike had proven invaluable. They allowed Has’ to train, in relative safety, at the intensity required, for hours on end. I’m sure the resulting, mind numbing, tedium must have played it’s part in giving Has’ the mental toughness he would undoubtedly need to draw upon during the race.

Nothing builds character like 2 hours on a treadmill or 4 on a Wattbike! 

Back in Callela we had assembled a fabulous team to help with Haseeb’s Challenge. Has’ family Mary and Ayesha (with boyfriend Sam) had flown out with Martin Westall and Joanna.  

Martin would be in charge of gathering all the evidence required to ratify the attempt with Guinness. When Roy Castle warbled on about “dedication” (ooooh dedication), what he failed to mention were the hours and hours of admin and yards of red tape you need to untangle if you... “wanna be a record breaker.... ooooh yeah”. But what an incredible job Martin did. Has’ would not have had a chance at the official record without Martin’s efforts it’s as simple as that. 

We’d gathered on the beach on Saturday, at 8:00am, for a practice swim. We were joined by “Team Ahmad” along with Craig Twig, Paul Lunn, Tom and Laura Roche and Julian Hacket. Everyone chose not to mention the “Elephant in the room” (or Elephant on the beach), that being the 5 ft swell now pounding Calella’s coast line. 

Haseeb’s nerves were palpable as, tethered by the knee, I guided him towards the water’s edge for the first time. I waited for a set of waves to break before pegging it into the froth dragging Has’ with me. We had no choice but to swim hard through the breaking waves before Has’ pulled me up, struggling for breath.


in to the chop


We were through the worst, but now bobbing in the swell like a couple of corks. Has’ needed to
compose himself. With his breathing now under control we ventured on. I waved the others on suggesting that Has’ and I would do our own thing – our “own thing” being to try not to drown.

We swam for a few minutes but were making precious little forward progress Our swim mates were now out of sight. Tomorrow’s swim was looking increasingly like a case of survival. For both of us!
But the longer we were in the water.... the more comfortable Has’ became. We tried swimming in the direction of the course (parallel to the coast) and this was much easier. After a bit more practice, getting in and out, we called it time with Has’ feeling a little more confident than he had 15 minutes ago. 

We’d both just do what it took to get through the swim tomorrow but I think, deep down, neither of us imagined it was going to be easy... or all that much fun. 

The rest of the day passed without event. We attended the race briefing, racked the tandem (two entire racks had been cleared for it) and dropped off all our kit bags. 

With the pre-race rituals now complete, we retired to our respective accommodations to rest up for the big day that was now about 12 hours away.

Thankfully, as we arrived in transition on race morning, I could tell through the dawn that the sea was looking a good bit calmer than it had the day before. During our 70.3 race, and also our training swims, Has’ had managed around 40-45 minutes for the half swim distance. I’d always sensed Has’ tiring at the end of our swims so suggested we place ourself at the front of the 1hr 40 minute swim pen for the “rolling start”. I honestly couldn’t see how we could swim any quicker. This cautious approach would allow me to build Has’ into his swimming, without fear of being swum over by faster competitors.

After a short delay to the 8:10 start time, the horn sounded for the start of the Age-Groupers – but it would be a further 40 minutes before the 3000 strong field were all into the water.

Thankfully – our entry was a doddle and we were quickly into our swimming. Amazingly we were instantly passing people. 400m later we made the first right turn onto the long outward leg.

I started threading my way though swimmers who had started in front of us, but they were spaced well enough apart to allow us relatively clear progress. Swimming tethered is no picnic. Most of us struggle to swim in a straight line in open water – which is why we sight regularly. But for Haseeb, his only feedback is feeling tension on the tether... meaning he is drifting to the right, or clashing arms with me.... meaning he’s drifting to the left. And that’s pretty much how we make forward progress. A little like aquatic dodgem-cars.

What little technique I do have is destroyed by the extra drag and I have to spend a large percentage of my time swimming “head up” water polo style to sight a clear line through other swimmers. And I can pretty much forget about maintaining a streamlined position as I swim. Think less dolphin and more Starfish!

However, there were times when I felt it all come together and we were making smooth forward progress together and it felt great. 

Haseeb quickly looses proprioception in the water and can get very disoriented. So I suggested that we should pause at the far turn point so I could tell him we were at half way and relay a split time...

“42 minutes mate – Amazing swimming” I yelled... 

“Well lets get going then!” came the reply...

Neither of us tired much in the second half and I sensed a tide assisting us home. The final turn back to the shore became very congested. I had to fight my way through many fading swimmers and fend off the advances of several fast finishers – keen to exit the water in front of us, even if that meant getting “clothes-lined” by our tether. 

At just over 1hr and 22 minutes we were running up the beach.... I couldn’t believe it. We were both buzzing.


1:22 swim
 
Into the change tent and I grabbed our bags. Shoes, shorts, helmet done... 

Our T1 was just shy of 6 minutes and we were onto the bike in under 1hr 30 minutes better than either of us could have imagined.

We knew the bike section was where we could make up a big chunk of time. And since we’d started near the back of the field we’d have plenty of riders to pass to keep our motivation high. 

Once through the opening 3k technical section we settled into a comfortable rhythm. “This feels like training pace” Has’ shouted. I glanced at the speedo which was reading well over 25 mph. “That’s how it’s supposed to feel” I shouted back. “If it feels hard.... were going too hard” I urged. 

The bike is a 2 lap affair with a short inland “out and back” up a drag, designed to break up any draft packs.... Seeing the size of the Age-group peletons heading back to Calella, this course change had clearly NOT had the desired effect. 

The bike course at Barcelona does get congested. With two laps to accommodate 3000 athletes, riders need to be vigilant to avoid getting caught up in packs. But maintaining a 12m gap is possible, you just need some integrity. It was easy to see those riders who were doing their best to stay legal. It was equally easy to see those who were doing their best to gain every possible advantage they could. 

Thankfully our speed differential meant we were able to fly past every group of cheats we met, offering them no chance to grab a free ride. All they got from me was the SS “stare of death” and a disapproving “thumbs down”. 

I have completed Ironman Barcelona before... So was familiar with the course. The climb was new to me though and it’s the one part of the course where the tandem was a little disadvantaged. It was less of a climb and more a long drag really. We kept a lid on things climbing it for the first time. The descent back down was fantastic and we shot back past anyone who had overtaken us on the way up.


on the inland drag for the first time


Speeds in excess of 30mph combined with narrow sections of contraflow and congestion meant I had to keep my wits about me, calling out roundabouts and speed bumps as necessary. When racing, I carefully select what to share with Has’ on the tandem. I try not to worry him with the numerous trials / tribulations / near death experiences we face during the race. He can’t do anything about them, so there seems little point in freaking him out with a stream of expletives! The odd one might have crept out though! 

Before long we found ourselves at the far turn and began the headwind slog back to Calella. Moments later we stopped at our first aid station. We’d both started with 2 full bottles which were now drained. I picked up a fresh bottle each, slotted them into the frame and bought the tandem back up to speed, wasting as little time as possible.

We continued passing rider after rider and sadly more peletons before reaching the “special needs” pick-up a few kilometres from the end of lap 1. Here we had stashed two fresh bottles each for lap 2. This was the fuel we had trained with and so wanted to use for as much of the race as possible. Holding the tandem and wrestling with drinks was tricky and our attempt to move off was thwarted by the chain falling off. A helpful volunteer quickly popped it back on and we were soon on our way. Not quite F1 slick – but fast enough all things considered. We were back at the roundabout at the outskirts of town in a shade under 2½ hrs. The support from the crowd here was fantastic. Absolutely electric! I couldn’t break concentration for a moment as we whizzed past fellow competitors and negotiated the 180 degree turn to start our second lap.


 
end of lap 1
  
Haseeb still seemed pretty chipper and our power was good. We knew the drill now and headed back out along the coast to the inland out and back. 

Starting the climb for the second time, Has’ was now feeling the heat. The timing was good as we were just passing an aid station – I grabbed a bottle of water and passed it to Haseeb so he could cool himself off. Then we got stuck into the climb. It definitely felt harder this time round and I think Haseeb was pretty relieved to reach the turn and start enjoying the descent.

Back on to the coast and we were soon back at the far turn. “30 miles to go Has” I yelled. “Looking good for 5 hours!” 

The wind had stiffened on the return leg and Has’ was starting to fidget. I knew he was getting fatigued. We stopped for one more bottle pick-up before getting our heads down for the last hour.

I knew if I could keep our speed in the low 20’s (mph) we’d be good, but it was proving a struggle. Both Has’ and I were feeling the effects of riding the tandem for several hours. It’s very hard to come out of the saddle and stretch out like you can on a solo bike, so body aches become a real problem. We used the hills in the closing mile to try and prepare our legs for the run which awaited us. 

Just the technical 3k through Calella remained. Tight, twisty roads and speed bump after speed bump meant we had to come off the gas. We rolled into T2 in 5:08:01 almost 20 minutes up on the time I’d targeted!! It had been a fast day for sure and Has’ had executed brilliantly on the bike. 

 
end of bike 5:08


Tandem racked, we ran to the change tent. I grabbed our run bags and started getting myself ready for the run. “I can’t find my shoes” Has’ shouted? I searched through his bag? Shit! No shoes?  

Panic started to set in until I realised I’d grabbed the wrong bag! Panic over. 

Once ready I guided Has’ over the various trip hazards and onto the run course. The opening mile was very congested and featured a number twists, turns and surface changes – all opportunities for Has to loose his footing, trip or take a tumble.

Starting the marathon we were both feeling pretty confident. We’d set ourselves a 3:30 – 3:45 target. With Has’ having run a straight marathon in under 3 hours this was not at all unrealistic. We passed though the first mile in 8 minutes to the second. Bang on schedule but I could tell Hasseb had not found it comfortable. I hoped that his run legs would come to him, so kept the pace where it needed to be for a 3:30.


Mile 2, 8:06. 

Mile 3, 8:09. 

Mile 4, 8:01 


I was keeping the pace high, but I sensed Has was burning too many matches.

Decision time... 

Keep going and risk a total meltdown, or moderate the pace now and keep running to the end. Has’ was telling me that he was hurting but, in fairness, this was new territory for him. He hadn’t experienced an Ironman marathon and I assured him, that how he was feeling was perfectly normal! And, moreover, he was running a good deal faster than those around him.

It was a no brainer though, we had to knock the pace back.

8:50, 8:25, 8:52, 8:44. The sub 3:30 run was slipping away, but we were still WELL up on the World Record.


keeping pace high



I do have to guide Hasseb’s direction when running, but not as much as you might think. He receives subtle feedback from the tether which, combined with my verbal commentary, provides Haseeb with all the information he needs to keep running. When fresh, Haseeb is a very dynamic runner, with a high knee lift and forefoot gait. Trip hazards are therefore a rarity. However, Has’ was now migrating towards the Ironman shuffle and this bought with it a whole new set of guiding challenges. I was having to call out obstacles that, at any other time, would pose no problems at all. Minor changes in road surface, discarded bottles, shallow speed bumps, cracks in the tarmac... all insignificant details that could have tripped Haseeb up. One such obstacle did catch me unaware (and therefore Haseeb) and before I knew it... Has’ had hit the deck – actually, a low concrete wall.
Has’ winced in pain as his quad locked up. Could I give Has’ a time out?
 

Our clock was still ticking and I had to get him running again..

“C’mon buddy – it’s just cramp (I hoped), get running and shake it out!!” 

Through the first lap in about 1hr 15 minutes. I knew right then we wouldn’t run the next 2 at that pace. Has’ was slowing with each mile and I was getting worried. Very worried. 

I had to step up my motivation... 

There were two approaches open to me here.. associative or dissociative. The former I tend to reserve for shorter events, or the end of longer ones. I’ll call out mile splits and make Has’ think about how he’s feeling. Getting him to “embrace the pain” as I call it. 

Right now, I didn’t think Has’ was ready to embrace anything, and actually more likely to punch my lights out... so I opted for the safer, dissociative approach.... 


We passed a gazebo pumping out Dire Staits...


“Oooh – Brothers in Arms I loved that Album as a kid” (guilty pleasure). 


“I preferred Making Movies” came the reply. 

This is good – he’s still corpus mentis. 

“There’s Sadie up ahead”... 

“We’ve just run past Joanna – she’s going crazy!!”... 

That kinda thing. Anything to take his mind off the daunting task that still lay ahead.


still a long way to go
 
Halfway through the second lap and our mile pace had started dipping into 10 minutes (including short walking breaks through the aid stations). 

Every mile that passed, Has’ was asking for a reduction in pace. We were now skating dangerously close to the edge of World Record pace. I had to keep him running at all costs...


Coming to the end of lap two and Has’ slowed to a walk. ..


A second or two passed.


Right... time for me to go “full bastard”. 

“Come on Has’ – if we walk now it’s gonna be a f***ing long day...” (pardon my French but needs must). “We just gotta keep running”. 

Has’ began to run and, once more, we soldiered on. 

My mind frazzled as I tried to work out how much time we had to complete the last lap. Some errors with my watch, meant I had to rely on “time of day” to work out our total race time, but with the rolling start I was not 100% confident of our start time! With about 5 miles left to run, I’d calculated that we could still break the record.... but we’d have to do the unthinkable. 

We’d have to start running faster...

I knew I was already treading a fine with Haseeb. But I also knew he had the propensity to soak up huge amounts of physical discomfort. Has’ was clearly close to the edge and pushing him any harder might mean “nighty night” - but we had to try.


The sun was now lower in sky and the air noticeably cooler. I urged Has’ to focus on his gait – keeping it as efficient as possible. The last 5 miles I don’t think I shut-up. I kept telling Has’ we could still do it. 

We could do it.. I knew we could.. I believed it.. I just had to make Has’ believe it!

 3 miles to go... 

“3 miles Has’..3 LOUSY MILES!! C’MON!!” 

Has’ was now completely incoherent. Answers to my questions, if they came at all, came in the form of grunts... 

Into the last 2 miles the crowds thickened and we began to be carried along on a wall of sound. 

Inside the last mile we passed Claire... 


“YOU CAN STILL DO THIS GUYS!!” she screamed!

We turned the final corner at full chat – Incredibly, we’d managed to knock 1 minute per mile off our pace for the last 5 miles.

No pain any more... 


I could see the red carpet.... and in between it and us was the mother of all kerbs!  

“KERB HASEEB!! KERB!!”

Has’ leapt and we flew down into the finish chute. The unmistakably energetic tones of Paul Kaye rang out across the PA announcing our arrival. The assembled crowd went ballistic! 


“EVERYTHING HAS’... GIVE IT EVERYTHING!!” I bellowed in his ear.... 


We crossed the line, I grabbed Has’ and looked at the timing clock above our heads.
And then it flashed up.. 


H Ahmad: GBR: 11:03:31 


“WAHOOO!! WE’VE ******* DONE IT HAS’!!” (Use your imagination here) 


I could not believe it. 

I was completely elated. 

Has’ collapsed into the arms of two awaiting medics and it was lights out...

I followed Has’ into the med tent where, overcome with nausea, he was tended to for 30 minutes or so. I went off to gather our dry clothes and returned to the tent were Has’ was now spark out on the recovery couch. Looking at him lying there totally wasted did make me question what we’d done.

What I’d MADE him do... 

Guiding a blind athlete, who you class as a dear friend, around an Ironman, in an attempt to break a World Record, is pretty strange gig and it’s one I’m not sure I’ve got my head around yet.. 

Although the best of friends, when I’m guiding Has’, I’m doing a job. I’m not his friend. In fact I’m probably his worst nightmare.. Ironman just magnifies the whole process 10 fold. 

I suppose a “friend” might have seen Haseeb suffering and if it was in their power to make it stop... they would have.

When Has’ wanted to walk, a friend might have let him.

When he wanted to take longer in the aid stations and drink a litre of Coke, a friend would have opened the bottle. 

What kind of friend yanks someone to their feet and makes them start running, when their legs are cramping having just fallen arse over tit onto a concrete wall? 

Who needs a friend like that?

 
People who wanna break Ironnman World Records I suppose! 


As I guided Has’ out of the med tent back to his proud family and friends I was glad I could revert to just being his buddy...



 ...But I drew the line at carrying the carrier bag of vomit... Our friendship does have it's limits.