This is my first race report. It’s huge (like medium sized novel huge). I’ve gone into far too much detail, but that’s entirely for my own benefit so I can remember it all in years to come, so apologies in advance.
2014 Training and preamble
I’d booked Mallorca almost a year ago after having just completed a ‘novice’ super sprint triathlon. I wanted something to work towards, something hard but achievable with the right work. Make no mistake, for me, a 70.3 distance (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run if you happen to be one of the 3 non tri people reading) is no joke for me. Some will knock that out as a tough training day, but for myself, with no real athletic background, it had sat on my wall planner like an ever nearing panic attack. I’d done a sort of Olympic distance race before (swim was cancelled and replaced with a 5km run) and that wasn’t too bad, but this was going to be an entirely different ball game.
Training wise, 2014 was mixed. A lovely mild January meant I could actually go outside and learn how to run. I ran 3 times a week for about 5-7km at a time which for me was quite big volume. Between the start of Jan and the end of Feb my 5km tumbled from 27.50 to 23.55, which was incredibly encouraging. Running felt easy, everything was good. Bike time was still limited, but I quite enjoy the turbo trainer anyway and was making good progress on TrainerRoad working through the sessions.
Towards the end of February though, I think my body had had enough and decided to throw various leg/hip injuries at me. I had a complete week off and shelved the running entirely, concentrating on turbo and a lot of strength training. Late March I did the MK half marathon which was double the distance I’d ever run. Encouragingly it felt great and was on track for a respectable 2 hours until the last few miles when I started to get knee pain. Hobbled to a 2:25 finish, but job done. Every run for the next month though was plagued with knee and hip pain. I could manage about 5km but beyond that, no chance.
Swimming has come on leaps and bounds too thanks to Keith Lewis at the Swim Shed, transforming my stroke from salmon in fishing net into something resembling an efficient swimmer. With a somewhat varied block of training I boarded the plane to Mallorca with the sole aims of having a nice time and walking away with a medal.
Race Lead Up
Sunday – nice recce of the course from our rental van (don’t ask). The climb on the course seemed absurd but the rest of it seemed fine. Quite a long way, 50 odd miles on winding roads. Built my bike up in the evening and then went for a nice meal out
Monday – good play on the beach with Ben. We made some sandcastles and I walked out into the sea carrying him. Couldn’t get him to splash around though as he said the sea was scary. Later in the day, friend and amazing athlete Amy Kilpin asked if I wanted a bit of hand holding with my first sea swim. Yes please! The sea doesn’t “freak me out” as such but it did seem a bit vast to just go in on my own. We both also needed to test our bikes out so we did an easy (for her, not for me) ride up to Port de Pollenca and back. Riding on Mallorcan roads just felt faster for some reason. It was also the first test of the deep aero front wheel and rear disk cover with some serious side winds. Other than a tiny wobble now and again it felt fine.
Back home, to the beach and wetsuits on it was time to man up and get in the water. The calm millpond water from the morning was replaced by some relative chop and the odd occasional proper wave. Swimming out left me feeling totally breathless, I couldn’t get the timing right and I was really struggling. All the pool swimming I’d done had gone out of the window. Half an hour more swimming and some pointers from Amy, I was feeling a bit better. 1900m though was going to be tough. Best moment of the day though was walking out of the sea to see Ben up to his elbows in the water having a great time splashing around.
Tuesday – had an hours swimming on my own while Ben and Nat built sandcastles and played in the sea. Much much better than Monday. The water was still and I found the rhythm I’d been missing.
Wednesday – another morning sea swim, this one felt great. Managed to keep pace with a chap who turned out to be an OW coach from the UK. He gave me a couple more tips, watched me swim and said it looked good. Confidence restored! In the afternoon we picked Amy up and put the bikes in the van to do the descent. It was the one part of the ride I was worried about. It’s mega fast in places and incredibly technical along switchbacks in others. Turns out it was hilarious fun. Years of driving quick cars on track meant it came quite naturally. Brake late and if needed all the way in to the apex to keep the weight on the nose, use the full width of the road, let the brake off as you come out the corner and I made pretty good pace. Natalie followed us down and picked us up at the bottom. The drive home was a 2 hour adventure of diversions that involved driving through an olive grove and a car blocking the road with a sign that said “I’m here with the asphalt machine” as the locals were frantically resurfacing before Sunday.
Thursday – quick splash in the sea followed by event registration and collecting my transition bags. Holding the race number in my hand it all started to feel a bit real. Nerves starting to kick in now so spent the day playing with Ben to try to take my mind off it. Once he’d gone to bed I packed, repacked and triple packed my transition bags before an early night. Couldn’t sleep at all.
Friday – easy morning, another play on the beach with Ben, followed by bike racking. Had met up with Amy before bag drop to have someone sanity check my bags as I was convinced I’d forgotten something. Bike racked, bags dropped and a few technical issues sorted and was good to go to the briefing. Seeing hundreds of amazing looking athletes in one place did nothing to calm my nerves and feelings of being utterly out of my depth but the briefing itself was good. After a few hours of slow boiling in the sun though we were both starting to feel the effects of the heat. I always notice my speech starts slurring a touch if I’m overheating and it was just creeping in, so we went on a hunt for some ice cream (nutritional and medicinal, honest) and some shade. Nerves still at full tilt, I went home to try and eat some dinner and get some sleep.
5.15am wake up, try to eat some breakfast. I managed a small coffee and a tiny bowl of Cheerios (quite plain, easy to eat). Amy picked me up to save me a mile walk. I made my way to my bike to put my spare inner tubes in the saddlebag and fill my bottles. Then to the beach. By 7.30 the nerves had vanished for some reason and replaced with a sense of calm. I had various comments from people floating round my head, one of which was from my wise Scottish friend @IronPugsley: “Take the time to have a look around, take it all in and enjoy it.“. I did just that and looked at the faces of people. Most were looking nervous, some completely stone cold. A few smiling, so I exchanged smiles. Kept reminding myself I wanted to do this and it was an adventure. 7.45 and it was time for Amy to go into her holding area for her wave start. Good lucks exchanged and I’m on my own. I watched the pros start and then the next few waves. Then it was my turn. Wetsuit on, I got sort of in the middle of the pack and waited…
After an eternity of waiting the gun went off. At my point of the pack it wasn’t a run into the water, it was too busy for that, it was more like a crowd boarding a train, moving with conviction but without any pace. Found myself a space to swim and went for it. The water was opaque with kicked up silt and I could feel the bubbles of the person in front. 200m or so in, I’m not quite sure what happened but during a breath my goggles got removed from my face along with my cap. I stopped to find them a few yards back but whilst trying to put them back on someone swum over me and I took a lungful of sea water. Confidence knocked entirely I started to breaststroke my way after the pack which shot off into the distance. At the halfway marker I looked at my stopwatch which was showing about 19mins, so plenty of time left. It was very clear that I just needed to take it at my own pace. Pretty much on my own apart from a few others I alternated between 30secs of crawl and some breaststroke. I kept panicking with the crawl and I couldn’t find any rhythm. 45 minutes after the gun went, I left the water feeling annoyed at myself but ready for the bike and pleased I made the cut off (which last year looked a bit tight).
Into T1, get bike gear on, grab bike and jog along the world’s longest transition (500m apparently). Mount the bike and off we go. Up into Alcudia old town where Matt Fisher blasted past me saying “come on Brian, mate!”. Sorry Matt, that was me actually pedalling quite hard. I literally have no idea how the fast bikers do it. It really is incredible. The pace I can maintain for a minute sprint, they’ll do for 90km. Amazing. The bike course is a single loop that follows the coast, takes in a 600 metre climb, then drops back down to undulating farmland for another 50km. I was starting to get into a zone on the bike, passing a few people that left the water ahead of me. Gentle cruise up the coastal road to Port de Pollenca gave me time to eat a 9Bar and have some fluid. Got to the first aid station at Pollenca having drunk most of my bottles so grabbed a water, an isotonic (yuck), and a half banana. The gentle climb from Pollenca up to the start of the main climb was only really noticeable by looking at the Grade reading on my Garmin.
Then passed a sign warning of a steep climb for the next 9km. Here we go, rattle through the gears one by one as speed drops and keep the legs spinning. The climb was never impossible, just long with very little rest. Although my bike is a heavy lump (it’s a pimped cyclocross bike) it does have the advantage of a triple chainring up front and a huge 32T gear on the back. I never used all the gears, but some people could have done with some extra options. At one point I was following a huge Russian guy called Ivan. He must have been about 6ft5, 18 stone and for some reason, on a small frame bike. He looked like Donkey Kong and I was pretty sure he could just push his bike along with his hands. Unfortunately, he was getting slower and slower as the hill got steeper. I waited for a small gap in the passing bikes, clicked up a few gears and did a small sprint effort standing in the pedals. Other than that, the climb was just a case of looking at the reading from my Powertap and keeping it as smooth as possible between about 130W and 180W depending on traffic etc.
Once at the top of the climb (there’s a few false summits on the way!) I shifted into the big ring, zipped round the first corner and promptly found the chain had jammed in the front mech. Back pedalling made it worse so had to leap off the bike next to someone changing a puncture, pop the chain back on and away again. About 30 seconds wasted and more of an annoyance than anything else. Onto the descent proper and some of the riding standards were dreadful. I passed about 50-60 people on the switchbacks and didn’t get passed at all. There were some almost coming to a standstill, wobbling round the corner and pedalling like fury again for the downhills. Odd. Off the main descent, through Caimari village and hook a left onto the worst road surface you can imagine. Potholes, gravel, dust. Even cruising at 20kph felt too fast and the bike felt like it was being shaken to bits. Fortunately it didn’t last long until we got to section that was resurfaced on the Wednesday.
Along to Campanet and the second aid station. The gap between aid station 1 and 2 is a whopping 40km and included the 600m climb. It really felt like about 20km too far. They could have done with a water station (rather than a full aid station) at the top of the climb IMHO given it was starting to head towards 26-28degC by this point. Another banana, a Powerbar (yuck) and some more waters down me, the stretch from Campanet to the final aid station was only 15km along some half reasonable roads…. after seemingly barely enough time to finish what I was eating it was time to grab some more water and click off the final 25km back to Alcudia. Not sure if there was a tailwind or what, but down in the aero position along the flat smooth roads I was maintaining an easy 40-45kph with barely 130W of output. Lovely cruise and I’m feeling great. This’ll be over in no time.
Another cyclist pulls alongside me, shouting something at me in German that I don’t understand. Flustered, I stare at him as he’s looking back at me, about a metre in front and a metre to my left. I carry on at a cruise as I’m aware there’s someone about draft legal distance behind me and I don’t want to slow them up too. I wait for him to pull the regulation 10m distance away. He has all the time in the world, this road is arrow straight, massively wide and empty infront of me. He turns away from me and all of a sudden moves over. Not a fast move, maybe two seconds or so. I’ve removed one hand from a tri bar moving it to the brake but it’s too late. His rear wheel just kisses my front and *BANG*. I’m down. 45kph according to the Garmin, and I have no bike underneath me.
I don’t remember a vast amount from the tumble itself, it was probably too quick, but I do remember landing on my feet whilst watching my bike bounce through a field off the road. I then remember catching something out the corner of my eye and watching my two Powerbar water bottles come down from the sky like tiny yellow laser guided bombs onto the road, exploding in a shower of cold water. He didn’t stop. Nobody stopped. I’m standing up, shaking, blood dripping from all my fingers like a horror film poster.
I’m screaming at passing riders: “Someone call the next medic! Someone call the next medic!”. Silence. They all carried on. To the left and right, all I could see was heat haze from the tarmac, dusty fields to either side and a smattering of riders trying to ignore me. It reminded me of the film Rango where he falls from his tank onto the desert road.
I checked my limbs and everything seemed intact. Although incredibly painful I had movement in my arms. My left elbow though had swollen massively. It looked like someone had rammed something about the size, shape and texture of a Mr Kipling cake slice under the skin. My legs seem sort of ok other than the skin. I walked over to the field to fetch my bike and get it back to the road. Lifting it was painful so it was more of a drag. It looked intact apart from the front tyre which was flat. Ah, that explained the enormous bang and hiss I heard as I was airborne.
It took ages to get my hands onto the zips of my saddlebag as they were shaking so much, but once I calmed down I managed to get the tyre levers and an inner tube out of my saddle bag. As I was fiddling with the levers trying to find a way to get the tyre off using my remaining working fingers (quite a lot of road rash) a course motorbike arrived. It was a Police rider with a bike mechanic on the back. The Policeman asked if I was ok while the mechanic fixed my front tyre in silent Spanish. Once the bike was found to be sort of working (all ok other than broken front derailleur which he managed to bodge into the middle ring) the Policeman ask if I needed a medic or if I was ok. I sort of took it as a good sign that they weren’t calling for an ambulance. I must have at least looked ok. I had a quick look at my Garmin which reckoned I’d travelled 70km, so I decided to try to ride the remaining 20km back to Alcudia. Worst case I could stop at the next point where there’s a course marshal. Beyond that, I could maybe ride to the next town. Maybe if I made that, I could just ride gently into Alcudia where the main event medical tent was. Yes, I’d do that. I’d ride to the med tent and let them sort me out.
Riding was ‘interesting’ to say the least. With my swollen (and very bloody) elbow I couldn’t put that one on the tribar armrest. The other hand had a whole bunch of missing skin from the palm so it was a weird riding technique with left hand grabbing the brake hood, right hand sort of holding the extension bar. Incredibly thirsty after standing in the sun and from the shock I went to grab a bottle, but remembered they’d both jettisoned in the crash. It was a long, hot ride back to Alcudia with zero fluid. Oddly though I still was passing people and maintaining a decent pace. Riding back to transition I started looking for the medical tent. I hopped off at the dismount line and ran (walked) over to a marshall to ask them. They said to ask the people in the tent at the exit of transition. So walk/jog the 500m to the other end and oddly felt fine. OK, screw this, let’s at least start the run so I can say I tried even if I can’t finish.
I grab my run bag, ditch my bloodied and shredded bike gear, put my run clothes on (apart from calf guards which look like they’d hurt my road rash) and trot out of the change tent. Ah, there’s the tent with the officials. I ask if I can just get a dressing/wash the blood off. They say I can do so in the medical tent at the finish line, but I need to go the other way to the 3 lap course to get there. She takes my race number and starts radioing through. I ask what she’s doing. She says I wanted to exit the race. No.. well.. I do. Desperately. But I really want to finish. I tell her I’ll run half a lap, if I struggle I’ll exit to the finish line area (and the medical tent) at that point. She radios something again which I hope is “Cancel that, the idiot is still running” rather than “Security, I need you to extract someone from the course”. Off I go.
The run is a 3 lap course of the promenade, a couple of town streets and a main road out of town. It’s lined with spectators and feels like running in a carnival. I jog the 500m to the first aid station, down a ton of water/coke and whatever other fluid I can find. I last drank before the 3rd bike aid station at 65km and I’m parched. I take a gel on too and off I go to see how running feels.
It feels fine. Easy fine. I’m ticking along at sub 6min km’s and it feels effortless. In fact, more effortless than it normally feels. I check my heart rate and it’s 175. It can sometimes get above 180 on a run if I’m pushing but I feel like I’m putting in no effort, just gliding. I carry on for a few minutes longer and start to look around. People are really suffering in the heat. There are people dripping in cold water from sponges. There’s a couple of people lying on the floor. There’s one guy being sick. I normally suffer badly in the heat. Even lying around at home I feel odd in this kind of heat. Hmmm. I take a walk break to cool off and gather myself. My heart rate doesn’t drop below 150 after a few minutes. A few minutes more walk and it’s still 150. Lots of people are pointing at me from the side of the road. Ah yeah, that’ll be the fact I’m dripping blood onto my white running top and down my leg. Sorry about that. At the pace I was going I must have looked a bit like a zombie.
Another aid station, another weird feeling run and I managed to let my sensible head take over. I was never going to set a time to be proud of, I’d had quite a tumble, and potentially I wasn’t quite 100% myself. I realised the adrenaline could be masking all sorts of messages my body was trying to send me and my heart rate still wasn’t dropping below 150. I was probably very dehydrated from the bike, and potentially had some big injuries. I thought of Natalie and Ben, I realised I was potentially pushing myself into a unhealthy situation. I really shouldn’t do this run. I did a slow walk (always keep moving) and flipped through my Garmin to do some mental maths. Normally I find it easy to do that kind of thing in my head, but it was getting to the point where I had to ask another walking stranger for help. That was a pretty good sign all was not ok with me. As it transpired, at my quick walking pace (8:15/km) I was easily going to beat the cut off, so my run became a walk. A very social walk where I chatted to other non runners. An amusing walk where I was catching and passing people who were running/stopping. After a lap and a half I finally saw Nat and Ben waiting for me. I’d been slightly concerned that perhaps in the confusion they’d somehow been told that I was out of the race after a crash and were looking for me. I assured Nat I was fine, gave Ben a kiss and carried on my walk. An hour and a half more of chatting to strangers and it was time for the finish chute (where I ran, obviously).
Total time for the worlds slowest half marathon: 02:58:23
On one hand, I’m pleased I finished a 70.3. It’s something I thought I couldn’t do and really my aim was to just finish it. On the other hand, I’m gutted I made a bit of a hash job of it. I can’t really say I gave it my all in terms of physical performance. Yes, I ‘gave it spirit’ like an underdog high school team in an American movie, but that’s not what I’d trained for.
Swim wasn’t what I was hoping for at all, more to come there certainly and it’s all mental rather than physical.
Bike, looking at the Garmin data, removing the 10 min crash stop would bring the bike split to 3:30 putting me about 20th from last in my age group. I’d probably have ridden a harder last 20km sans crash so would have gained a few more places. In hindsight I reckon I totally undercooked the bike. I could have upped my target watts and still felt fine. I think I was a bit cautious there.
Run, no idea. I’ve not run in so long, but I reckon with a bit more walking than running I’d get an easy 2:30 run, putting me again about 20th from last.
On the plus side, I finished the race feeling fine. Grabbed my medal and made my way to the med tent where I saw 6 bodies with IV fluids, 2 with oxygen masks. Screw that. I prefer my way. Death or glory isn’t really my style. Once they had room for me, a very pretty Spanish girl cleaned me up with iodine (YOUCH), popped a few stitches in my elbow and sent me on my way. Nat picked me up, took me home and helped me clean myself up. I hugged my family and nearly burst into tears. It could have gone horribly wrong. It didn’t, but it could have. Later in the evening I met up with Amy, Roland and James for a well deserved pizza, a couple of beers and a wonderfully girly cocktail. I did the uncool thing and wore my medal to dinner.No sleep at all that night as just couldn’t get comfortable and my head was full of “what if”s”
The next few days were understandably slower than usual but managed to meet up with Pete and his lovely wife who were out for the weekend to recce the course and watch the race. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I think I’m going to enter for the 2015 race as a warm up for a full distance IM later in the year. It’s an easy location, stunning course, relatively sensible weather and a good atmosphere. Anyone else fancy it? I promise the 2015 report will be snappier……
Thanks to Natalie. Thank you for putting up with my never ending stream of stupid ideas that demand your energy as well as mine. Dragging yourself to Mallorca at 30 weeks pregnant with a 2.5yr old and a relatively useless husband is the work of an angel.
Thanks to Ben. Sorry buddy, I know you hate it when you watch me race and I always seem to run away from you. You’re always in my thoughts and one day we’ll do this silly kind of nonsense together ok ?
Thanks to Amy for your help during the week. Having someone around who knows what they’re doing helped settle my nerves loads. You’re a superstar and it was a total pleasure. Your race result was fantastic and well deserved (Amy finished in 5:32:35, some 2hrs 10 mins quicker than me!). Dead proud of you.
Thanks to all those who supported me on Twitter/Facebook before, during and after the race. I could genuinely recall the lovely things you all said the day leading up to the race and it really did help me get my head straight. It’s funny the voices that go through your head. Sometimes it’s people you barely know because they’ve said just the right thing.
Finally, thank you for reading.