Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Ironman Langkawi - You can't be serious!

"You can't be serious!" Is what most people said when I mentioned that I was thinking of doing the Langkawi Ironman this year. Naturally this response removed any doubt that I might have had in my mind.

So here's the picture - I got hit by a van while training on my bike in early September, I got the expected lacerations but also four fractured vertebrae. The next 10 weeks I wore a body brace to isolate spin movement, spent several weeks off work and wasn't allowed to do any exercise. Gained 10 kilogrammes and a bad temper!

Come the end of December the brace was off but a fever had set in and on returning from a trip to India I developed severe food poisoning followed by a very persistent case of bronchitis. After three courses of antibiotics (that had no effect) I decided to let the body's own immune system do the job and in the meantime I'd start training for Ironman Langkawi.

Most people thought I was joking especially when they saw me retching and struggling to breath at the beginning of every run or ride. What they didn't realise is that I had a plan (and after all, Ironman Langkawi was a full 5 weeks away).

Step one in my plan was to gather all the knowledge from my best endurance, marathon and long course triathlon books and throw them in the bin - no time for the "only increase your distance by 10% per week" rule. I knew this rule was flawed anyway because increasing nothing by 10% still equalled nothing and that's a couch potato's training manual!!!!

My first run was 8.5k, the next day 21k, the following week 30k, a week later 21k the next week 42k and then another 42k one week later followed by a 21k and then it was Ironman. There were also a few 5 to 12k runs thrown in mid week but not too many as I didn't want to over do it.

Each long run listed above was preceded by a long ride the day before; starting with 100k and building up to 213k (the Fraser Hill ride). All this time the bronchitis was getting better but at an almost imperceivable rate, I felt like it was improving by about 2% a day. Therefore I stayed out of the pool and didn't swim until a week and 2 days before the race.

On the Thursday I swam 2k, Friday 1k, Saturday 3k, Monday 4k and that was my swim training - at least come Saturday I knew I could do the distance without drowning. This is quite important because drowning leads to a very slow finishing time and I'm told may even lead to disqualification.

So that was that, my rather inadequate crash course (pun intended) training in my lead up to the race. Amazingly I had no injuries and the bronchitis, although still there, was no longer impeding my breathing too much.

So the race itself; the swim was gorgeous, flat calm, no jelly fish (I didn't find any at least). An out and back course, just like a super long 1.9km swimming pool. Got to the turnaround in 37 minutes and back in 1:23, I'd got to be pretty happy with that!

I saw my buddies Sam and Don getting changed, had a quick chat and then strolled out to the bike. The plan was to keep my heart rate at about 124 and my cadence over 100. The bronchitis put paid to that plan though and it soon became clear (even after the hills) that my heart rate was going to be awfully high today - a sure sign of trouble later. The temperature reaching 41 degrees didn't help much either.

Three laps of the bike were OK albeit a little slow for me (as expected though), kept it all together and finished in 6:15. Again I got changed at a relaxed pace and even had a pee (the colour of highly toxic nuclear waste though).

On to the run and it became a run/walk within a few hundred metres. So that was that, run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit, walk a bit, get to an aid station (every 1k) and drink something (I can never eat anything on the run), have an ice water shower and then off again. Unfortunately my feet had started developing blisters in one of my training runs and with the very wet feet from the ice water showers the blisters became the leading feature of my pain sensors as the run progressed.

I got within 8k of the finish and realised if I picked up the pace I'd have a sub 14 hour finish time. So off I went trying to run the rest of it - walking through aid stations, get a drink, taking and ice water shower. The fact that it was dark now and the temperature had dropped helped somewhat.

1.1k to go and 6 minutes to the 14 hour mark, I felt like I was sprinting, I was now within 700 metres of the finish and the blister on my right foot exploded AGGGHHHHHHH! Golly, that was painful let me tell you. It didn't slow me down though and as I rounded to the finish my watch said 14 hours and a handful of seconds - oh well eh! They're just numbers and at least having the sub 14 goal made the last 8k pass a little quicker.

So that was that another Langkawi, I'll be back next year, hopefully infinitely better prepared. I may do another IM before then but let's wait for the blisters to heal first (actually I've already decided which race to do later in the year - watch this space).

What got me through the race was probably the fact that I've got quite a few tough Ironman's under my belt now (this was my 11th), you learn a lot about how to manage yourself through a race over time and if you only step back and ignore "Mr Ego" and listen to the experience it can be invaluable. With my back injury, bronchitis and lack of training I had no choice but to try to think my way around the course rather than go too hard until I fell over.

Additionally I re-read a book called the UltraMarathon Man by Dean Karnazes, when you read this.....well rather than me try to explain it I strongly advise you to read it - it's inspirational.