Thursday, August 19, 2010

ITU Long Distance World Championships - Immenstadt 2010

Here I am after finishing the ITU Long Distance Championships in Immenstadt, Germany holding the Union Jack and the Malaysian Flag representing my two countries (Official and Unofficial).

ITU Long Distance World Championships 1st August 2010

I was very honoured to be representing my countries (officially Britain, unofficially Malaysia) in the ITU Championships in Immenstadt Germany. I’d qualified by winning 70.3 Malaysia and also at Ironman Malaysia.

Unfortunately I’d torn my calf six weeks before the race at The Bintan Triathlon; so being recovered enough from the injury to actually start was the first big question and then being fit enough to compete was the second.

Having now completed the race I can report that my calves held out perfectly and my damaged right foot is a tad sore now but didn’t affect the race. What was clear though was the lack of endurance both in my running and swimming.

The calf had not affected my cycling or training and I’m without doubt faster now on two wheels than I ever have been in my life and feeling like there’s more to come. The running though obviously suffered badly and especially the lack of hard long runs. The swimming on the other hand was down to lack of motivation and laziness. Actually, there was more to it than that, I was very “down” about my calves and foot, especially when my foot failed to respond to treatment and as I’m a reluctant swimmer at the best of times I just couldn’t stimulate myself into action.

THURSDAY 29th July
So back to the race, Shilpa and the boys decided not to come as the logistics of getting us all there was going to be tough and as we were then meeting Shilpa’s parents in Paris afterwards we decided that she and the boys would fly straight to Paris. I flew to Heathrow and then connected to Munich where I was (eventually) collected and taken to the hotel. On the drive I met another member of the British Team, Greg. A really great bloke, an ex-timetrialist turned to long distance triathlon. As soon as we got to the hotel we were met by Tim Whitmarsh the team manager. Tim is an extremely warm and welcoming chap and a team couldn’t ask for a better manager I’d say. Travelling time, door to door, was about 27hrs so I was fading fast and off to bed by about 7pm but awake again at 4:30am. This suited me as we’d be getting up at 3:30am come race morning.

FRIDAY 30th July
I spent the morning in the restaurant doing some work, clearing emails etc… and meeting more of the British Team, an absolute fabulous bunch of people. I was really starting to enjoy the team dynamic, something you don’t get in Ironman racing. I hooked up with Brian a Scottish member of the team who I got on extremely well with and we headed off into town to test out the bikes and register.

On Friday evening it was the Pasta Party and the Parade of Nations. I hadn’t realised that I was supposed to have bought the team polo shirt so I wore my Union Jack Cycling Jersey instead and had a huge Union Jack too. One guy even had Union Jack K-Swiss running shoes. (I’ll have to try to get a pair).

The parade of nations was great, the town of Immenstadt was totally into it with crowds lining the route, cheering, waving and taking photos. The pasta party was like many such events, a bit of a sticky bun fight to get food and the food was literally pasta and sauce and that was it. However, in true German style you could buy beer, it was spoilt a bit when the bar tender asked me if I wanted alcoholic or non-alcoholic beer! (he’s still recovering in hospital!!! Haha not really but the look I gave him answered the question without it needing to come to blows).

In fact I had decided to wait to test the famous Bavarian beer until after the race but my resistance was low when Brian suggested that we try a Weissbier (Wheat Beer), it’s one of my favourite tipples so my abstinence didn’t really stand a chance. We kept it down to just a couple though. With that done it was another early night and another early start on Saturday morning. Although Brian, Andy (another real cool guy), and a few others went to the bar for a coffee but ended up having a few more beers and schnapps – oh dear – lucky for them the race wasn’t until Sunday.

SATURDAY 31st July
Saturday morning was the team briefing, all the team had arrived now and it was really cool to be together for the first time. Tim gave an excellent team talk and read messages to the team sent by Chrissie Wellington and Jodie Swallow. Very motivating and inspiring. Then off for the team photo, once again I felt really privileged and honoured to be part of the national squad. We may have been the Age-Group Team but I’m sure it felt just as real as the pros (perhaps with a little less pressure).

A few of us then rode down to the lake to give the bikes a final run out, test the wetsuits and the water temperature (16.4C Brrrr, actually it wasn’t that bad at all) and then a 15 minute run to get some blood flowing through the running muscles. We checked out transition and the bike exit etc… and that was that – all ready to go.

In the meantime my sister Angela and her family, Markus, Nico and Sven had arrived at the nearby campsite so I rushed back to spend some time with them before the race briefing. It was really cool to see them and in fact one of the reasons I’d decided to do this race was because it was in Germany where they live.

Then off to the official race briefing which was all pretty mundane stuff. Annoyingly, while sitting on the benches I was trying to keep my back straight to avoid any problems with it and sadly it had the opposite effect and my back tightened up terribly as I headed home for bed – not good.

SUNDAY 1st August – RACE DAYUp at 3:30am, actually that was the alarm time but I was wide awake at 2:45 – having had two really good night’s sleep I wasn’t worried and felt well rested and ready to race, my back was a little tight still but there was little I could do about that now except stretch it.

The bike was taken off at 4am and breakfast with the team was a very subdued affair with little discussed other than the bike course (everyone was nervous about that). The profile had scared a lot of people including me but then course profiles can often be deceiving depending on the X and Y scales.

What was clear was that it was 2000m climbing in just 130k. I’ve ridden the Ulu Yam/Fraser Hill/Bentong loop many times and that’s about 2000m climbing but over 213k. So I knew this course had to be tough. Some of the guys had cycled part of the route and they said it was as bad as expected at best but probably worse. Most of the big climbs ranged between 14-19% and we had to do all of the worse ones twice.

We headed to the start at 5:00am to set everything up. It was freezing, my teeth were chattering so much it was almost comical. Then disaster struck for Andy, he’d taken the precaution of replacing his worn cleats on his cycling shoes but couldn’t work out why he couldn’t clip his shoes to his pedals – they were the wrong size – OMG! Panicked telephone calls were made and he raced back to the hotel – fortunately he was back and had them replaced just minutes before the start was flagged off – phew, disaster averted, although I bet it did no good for his heart rate.

At the Alpe d’Huez Long Course Triathlon last year we weren’t allowed into the water until just a few minutes before the start. When the gun had gone I was hyperventilating due to the cold and not being used to a wetsuit (not much call for wetsuit swimming in Malaysia) I thought I was going to drown and worse than that my swim time was toilet. I wasn’t going to allow that to happen at the Worlds.

I was one of the first in the water and after doing the customary warming of the wetsuit (if you know what I mean) I started getting some vigorous sprints in. I felt fantastic. I have long since realized that however bad a swimmer I may be the best way to have a good swim and avoid being beaten up in the “washing machine” is to start at the front. Everywhere else there are basically people thrashing around trying to stay alive whereas at the front faster people swim around you (and over you) but as soon as you can get onto someone’s feet who is quicker than you (but not too quick) then you’re going to have a good day and not get too bashed up. The plan was executed perfectly. I knew if I could cover the first 500m without going into the red zone or anaerobic I’d be in good shape.

I sat on a guy’s feet in a sailfish wetsuit for the first 2.2k but then felt he was going too slow for me (or my ego did) and I passed him. I soon realized how much help drafting made and it wasn’t long before he came past again but this time I was out of rhythm and lost him. The next k was tough but I was still having a great swim. For the last kilometre however, my lack of endurance swimming and lack of swimming in general since Ironman came to expose me. I really struggled and the last k never seemed to end. Fortunately it did and I was on dry land.

Swim time: - 1:11:35

I’d decided to take off my wetsuit by my bag before I ran up the hill to the change tent. Apparently this was a big NO NO and I got seriously shouted at by the officials – would have been nice if they’d have mentioned it in the briefing. So I pulled it half way back up and waddled up the hill with my bike bag looking like a penguin. Must have looked quite funny and I knew it because even I was chuckling at myself.

T1 time: - 3:31

A quick transition and onto the bike, Helloooo baby, now I’m in my element. I immediately got into the groove and was watching my cadence and heart rate. All the numbers were spot on and then I hit the first mega climb out of town – this was wildly steep and long. It was going to really really hurt bad on the next lap.

Germany is without doubt one of the most beautiful countries in the world and the ride was spectacular, just amazing scenery. Of course with the amazing scenery comes amazing hills and they were coming thick and fast. I was passing other riders in droves and as I came past Smudge, one of the Brits (he lives in Germany and is in the British Army, real nice guy), he said something like “Nice and easy, a long way to go”, great advice which stayed with me the whole ride. My numbers were still in the target zone and although I was going much quicker than most others I felt that I was OK and stuck to the plan.

One of the wonderful things about lung burning, heart exploding climbs is the descents. The problem on this course was that most of them were very technical, I came close to high speed wipe outs on a couple of occasions and by high speed I mean over 80kph – quite fast on 19mm tyres and only Lycra for “protection”! Another big problem was the other riders – everyone was very capable but overtaking at that speed down a technical course just adds more danger (and “excitement”) to the exercise.

Another factor I had to focus on was nutrition - calories and hydration were going to be major factors. The temperature was becoming very hot, the climbs increased the heart rate to silly numbers and to top it all the wind became quite strong about half way through causing more resistance but also increasing dehydration. I did pretty well on that front but my body couldn’t absorb anywhere near as much liquid as it was losing.

On the second loop I’d begun to pass many of the British Team and the camaraderie was great, usually just a “Go GB” or a brief few words shared but all really motivating. I saw Angela, Markus and the boys for the first time on a bit of a fast, technical corner but I managed a wave and a shout out to them. Again another really motivating and inspiring moment.

The second time I hit the monster hill out of town I’d had some real highs but the lows were coming regularly too now – the pain was growing and the legs, lungs and back were really hurting. I was still passing lots of people with one or two really struggling (some even walking) up the super steep hills. My legs still had really good power over anything that resembled rolling hills but I was starting to cramp up the really steep ones (and I NEVER cramp on the bike).

I cleared a mega steep hill that just went on and on kilometre after kilometre, I was standing for most of it (on a 39:27 gear ratio - that's how steep it was). I remembered the hill on the previous lap but couldn’t fathom how it had become so long and so steep. It’s amazing how memory and perspectives change when you are exhausted compared to being fresh. My memory was playing tricks with me but my legs were not, I realised that there was very little chance of me making it up any more mega climbs where I had to stand for more than a k. I felt I’d already come close to passing out a couple of times and had kept it together by willpower and by consciously "resetting" my mind – difficult to explain but the point is I was on the edge.

Fortunately, everything for the last 25k was pretty much doable and I even got to enjoy the scenery again. I came down a fabulous descent, past the swim lake and T1 and in towards town and T2. The marshalls were few and far between here and I took my feet out of the shoes too early but no big deal. As I came into T2 I saw Angela, Markus and the boys again which was really cool.

Bike time: - 4:14:08

The hand off of the bikes to the volenteers wasn’t as smooth as it is in most Ironmans. Usually as soon as you get off the bike is whisked away. Here no one took it and I was waved on to the transition area where eventually I came to a line of guys ready to take the bikes. Again I was happy with a fairly quick transition although nothing spectacular. I have long since learnt that the smallest thing forgotton or not done correctly in transition can lead to much lost time later or at least considerable discomfort. I did forget to take off my heart rate belt though (I don’t run with this ever). I was able to pass it to my sister though later in the loop.

T2 time 1:55

The run started well, my hopes were high but expectations were not and I was working on denial (no running mileage in training due to calf injury). I passed my sister and family and then Tim the Team Manager and then back out of town and past them all again. I was running well under a 5min/k pace and feeling reasonable for the first 10k.

The second 10k was a different matter and I could feel my pace falling but my breating getting faster and faster. The walks through the drink stations were getting extended and I was really struggling to get the heart rate and the breathing down. I was well pleased that my calves and my foot weren’t issues though.

The third 10k was not a lot of fun, sooooo many people came past me and so many of the British Team did too. Much of it was a walk with little bits of running interspersed.

I ran past my sister and I was hunched and it was more of a shuffle than a run – she shouted “You’re looking fantastic Simon, I’ve never seen you looking so good”. Had I actually been looking a little better or had she not tried to mean it so much I think it would have been a devastating knockout blow but because it was so rediculously off the mark it actually made me chuckle for the next kilomtre or two. I knew it came from the heart and was meant as encouragement – it was so sweet but sooo untrue and thus FUNNY.

Coming back into the stadium for the last time, Tim passed me a small Union Jack and said “You’ve earned it”, I thanked him and thought to myself I earned a bigger flag than this today. Markus my brother-in-law and my nephews Nico and Sven then handed me my huge Union Jack and equally huge Malaysian Flag. I did the circuit of the stadium with these, trying to hold them up and not get blown over. Eventually I finished and collapsed metres over the finish line with Brian coming in a few strides behind me. Finishing together with him was kind of fitting and a nice end I thought.

Run time: - 3:04:00

Total time: - 8:35:09 - 212th overall and 46th in M40-44 age-group.

I headed to the medical tent for a couple of much needed IV drips. I’d really let my hydration and salt levels get depleted and took these as precautionary steps towards a quicker recovery. As soon as I was out I headed to the post race nutrition laid on by the organisers – Wiessbeer (Wheat beer) haha (only in Germany & Austria). I managed 4 and gave Markus and Angela one.

That evening I caught up with a few of the team for a couple of beers and a pizza and then had to head off with my sister driving to Brugge in Belgium. It’s about a 12 hour drive for them and about a 12 hour sleep for me.

I’d encourage anyone to do an ITU Championships race whether it be Olympic Distance, Worlds or Long Distance. The events are totally different atmospheres and experiences to usual OD or Ironman races and the team dynamic is wonderful.

Finally I’d like to say thank you to my fellow team mates, you were a lovelly group of people, thank you to Nirvana travel you really made a difference and really went the extra mile, thank you to Tim Whitmarsh for great support and great management but most of all thank you to Angela, Markus, Nico and Sven for the amazing support in driving all the way to watch the race, the hours and hours of patience and support during the race, after the race and then for driving me half way across Europe only then to take my bike to England for me – OUTSTANDING!


Emma said...

Great job Simon, Will have to do me one of them races, will make sure it is a 3k swim though!!! Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

Perfectionist said...

Nice article, great read. Amazed with your timing despite lack of training. You swim fast, super fast !

Congratls with your world's finishing :)


jantel said...

Great execution Simon ! Sounds like a lethal bike course.

Brybrarobry said...

Awesome race report. I felt like I was there. I didn't realize it was an 8 hour plus race. You doing it with the calve problems is equaly impressive. That bike course sounds HARD, if you're cramping I can imagine what others must have felt. Great to see you had your sister cheering you on.

The only negative is the uniform. It makes you look like you have breasts, unless you've been taking hormones that I'm not aware of. haha. I know the British like their boobies on there women, so I guess it's only fitting that they put them on their triathlon team. haha.

Again, great work, sounds like a fantastic lifetime experience and memory.


heckler said...

good job simon, just curious, do you think your black beauty is suitable for this race since there were lots of climb?

sofiantriathlete said...

well done Simon. Nice flag gesture

plee said...

Congratz and well done! Crossing the line with both flags is really cool and awesome! You really do us proud Simon!