Griff’s Challenge Roth Ironman 14 July 2013

The Why

I suppose the man responsible for the whole Roth madness is Conor McNamara! Conor led the way back in 07/08 and got our little gang into the triathlon scene. It was the build-up to Conor’s first IM in Frankfurt that got me wondering how the hell someone could ever even start to think about entering one! Would i ever manage even the swim? That was at a stage when I was a sack of cement in the water and a good swim session consisted of 5 lengths spread over 35 mins with a further 35 mins talking pure shite in the sauna in DLR. All the while expertly critiquing the technique of actual swimmers out in the pool!

Fast forward 6 years and it was a chat again with Mac the day after his wedding and not long after his mental 9:49 in Melbourne when I started to really appreciate what I had signed up for! Typical Conor, there was no hype or drama or making it out to be something it’s not, he just said you can’t hide from the long sessions on the bike on your own or the long run and if you get those big sessions done you’ll be ok, dodge them and you’ll suffer! I took that as gospel and it definitely stood to me on D Day!

The Training

I debated around last Christmas about whether to try find a coach or do my own thing and I was lucky to meet and have a few chats with Sean Finn from Cork Tri Club who is a 5/6 time IM fast finisher and Sean advised me to follow Don Fink’s Be Iron Fit book. He reckoned if you could get the main sessions from this done every week there’d be no fear of you. It’s aimed at “the time crunched” athlete and he has 3 plans of varying levels of weekly volume. I decided to try the Competitive plan and figured I could dial it back as needed. Sean’s advice was backed up by similar advice from my friend Mark Hodnett who had followed the intermediate Fink plan for the Killarney Hardman last year! The plan followed the usual pattern of Base period x 3 blocks, build x 2 , peak and taper over 26 weeks! Weekly hours went from a handy 8hrs up to 20hrs in the peak phase! Looking back on my training diary I completed about 95% of the sessions.

Swimming went from 3 x 2000m a week up to 3 x 3500m a week and always included a warm-up, drills (paddles for me), main set, more drills and a cool down. There were lots of different sessions and every fourth session or so you’d swim the current distance straight, so jump in and just swim your 3.5k straight! There was a lot of dark shitty mornings driving from Kinsale to Cork City with the hood of my hoodie up in the car trying to get some coffee into the system but it 100% paid off! As it moved into the spring/summer I actually loved the swims and always felt great afterwards going into work! Swimming on my own all the time was tough just from a mental perspective, it’s hard to judge your progress but I think it helped in that you’re always breaking your own water and you have to keep yourself honest, the pool mate watch was invaluable for that!

The bike was always the least daunting for me! I was very lucky to fall in with a fantastic group when I first moved to Cork, thanks to my friend Mark! Cycling with De Ronde Van Cork all winter definitely built a great base and improved my general bike handling no end! The Byrons, Jenny and myself headed to La Santa in March again this year and I think this was a huge benefit to my training for the bike particularly in terms of training on the tri-bike, getting more confident on the tri bars on descents and in the wind! The main work on the bike came in the last 6-7 weeks and most of these involved 4-6 hour (120-160k) bikes with between 30-60 mins running off it! I did almost all of these solo or mostly solo, it wasn’t fair/safe to bring a tri bike into a group of 20+ club roadies and also I felt I had to get used to being in my own head space for that length of time. Looking back it might have been a tad excessive as you are never really alone on a huge event like Roth! Still it was great mental training! I practiced my nutrition on 2 longer rides in the final weeks and i felt that was enough, possibly a bit naive but I’ve never had issues with my stomach before albeit only over 70.3 distance. Approx. 4,450km covered in training.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the run training. I really couldn’t believe how fit I felt by March from just running 4 times a week at very comfortable paces. It was only the final long runs in the Peak phase off the back of long Saturday bricks that started to test the enthusiasm but at the same time you got a serious fill up from getting them done and heading home to the couch for the afternoon! Approx. 820km covered in training.

The Trip To Roth

Fiona a.k.a “The IronMaiden” and I flew to Munich on Thursday the 11th and right from the off things started to fall nicely for us, Louise O’Shea another De Ronde club mate was working on our flight and ensured we got the VIP treatment and arrived relaxed and refreshed and being a two time IM finisher herself give me some handy tips into the bargain. We then got another nice little bonus when we got an upgrade on our car rental to a big Volvo SUV. We arrived at the hotel which was a Novotel about 6k south of Nuremberg City Centre just off the motorway. First impressions were good, it even had a small pool and I was happy to see a few cars with bike racks meaning I wasn’t going to be the only punter looking for an early breakie on race morning. We took a drive into Nuremberg city centre which really turned out to be a nice place. At its centre is an old walled city and the main streets and squares are all pedestrianized and it’s really a nice place to walk around with plenty of good options for food and great shopping! I was going to add “to keep the other half happy” but to be fair I did a bit of a “wreck” (Cork slang for went ape) myself on the Monday, 6 months IM training means new wardrobe required! With dinner on board is was back to the hotel, build up the bike and bed.

I wanted to get into an up early, bed early routine so we were up at 5:45 Friday morning and did the first of several commutes to the Swim Start in Hilpolstein (which we soon renamed Nipple-stein for ease of pronunciation). Roth and Nipple-stein were about 10k apart Official swim practice in the Donau Canal was permitted from 6:30am until 9am on the Fri and Sat mornings and it was then reopened to the shipping traffic. There was a great atmosphere at the canal that morning with everyone full of nervous excitement and plenty of banter between different groups of nationalities, Fiona was appalled though at the complete lack of inhibitions … let’s just say it brought a new meaning to the expression sausage-fest! Wet-suited up I waded into the water and it was absolutely perfect … warm, as clean as you could hope for and obviously flat calm. I just did about 800 m and hoped out happy out. Back into the car and up the road to Roth itself. Again a lovely little town and completely overtaken by the race. The triathlon park is the focal point for the whole thing, the registration, the biggest expo I’ve ever seen (5 times the size of Austria 70.3) and the stadium for finish. The whole place gets the HR going! I registered and then did a tour of the expo , to be honest as huge as it was i didn’t actually go too mad , couple of souvenirs but no crazy last minute race day gear purchases apart from a nice white Roth visor .. had to go for the Visor or Brendan Byron would disown me. I then decided to drive the bike course loop. Ian and Evan had advised me to do this down at HOTW and it made a lot of sense, as the lads said, if nothing else you are off your feet and out of the sun. It also gave Fiona a chance to top up her beauty sleep! :0) The course seemed OK apart from a 10k pull up out of Greding, it pitches up very steeply initially for about 1.5k then continues to pull up and up followed by a fast technical (hairpin) descent. Certainly not flat but with a bit of luck it should be fine. All that done it was back to the hotel and a quick little brick before dinner just to take the edge off.

Saturday was pretty much a rinse and repeat of Friday, very short swim, biked from the swim start up Solar just for a taster, breakie and then back to the hotel for a nap. I really think this was a master stroke. The English/German race briefing was not until 6:30 that evening so it would have been a long day if i hadn’t squeezed in that kip and i slept like a log for an hour and a half. In fairness to the organisers it might have been late but the race briefing was genuinely funny with pics of naked cyclists and mobile shitters.. who said the Germans have no sense of humour? That last bit of pre-race formalities out of the way it was back to the hotel for the pasta buffet they had thankfully laid on and into the leaba at 9pm with the alarm set for 3:30am.

I was lucky to sleep perfectly that night and when I woke and went for a pee I was peeing clear so all good on the hydration front too.. I had been absolutely obsessive all week before hand with getting at least 3-4 litres a day including an electrolyte into me! I was determined to avoid a repeat of the trouble I had with the heat in Mallorca 70.3 in 2011. I immediately started to get the calories in with a bottle of High 5 4:1 and a High 5 energy bar. They were expecting 15,000 cars at the swim start and had warned about leaving plenty of time to get there but Fiona and I ended up being about the 3rd car to pull into the field we parked in and I think I passed about 4 other cars on the drive down. No harm though it soon stared to fill up and better to be relaxed than a ball of stress. Time for more food … as Fiona said … little did she think she’d be sitting in a field in Germany at half 4 in the morning making peanut butter and banana sambos! The glamour of it all! :0)

I wasn’t due into the water until 7:40 and i thought the almost 3 hours would be cruel to put down but time actually flew by. By the time I had got my nutrition on my bike, topped up the tyres and dropped my T1 bag the atmosphere had bubbled up nicely. Nutrition on the bike consisted on one food bottle with 10 gels (5 regular, 5 iso) and a sachet of Energy Source mixed up as thick syrup. I also had one bottle with a High 5 Zero tab up top between the tri bars. Snickers and two salt tabs taped to the top tube. Sounds like a lot but some lads had fancy P5s and Shivs dressed up as mobile aid stations! With 30 mins to go to my wave start I said bye to Fiona, thanked her for everything (at this point I felt like I was going over the top at the Somme) and headed off into the holding pen.

The Race

I watch a couple of the waves going off before mine and noticed a bit of a pattern, about 100 or so guys would line up along the bank , wait for the gun to go / rope to be lifted and then started to dive towards the centre and swim off. This looked like a reasonable plan of attack so when I got into the water I positioned myself along the bank about 30 guys from the front. I expected the guys in front to be very bullish but I could honestly see that everyone seemed to be absolutely bricking it so I gently nudged forward a bit. The gun went, the rope lifted and the guys in front all dived left … this left a channel of completely clear water in front of me so I said sod this and ploughed straight up and within about 50 m I had completely clear water ahead. I moved into the centre a bit then and could see there were only about maybe 20 guys in a little group at the front, it was pure fluke but it had worked out perfectly. Before I knew it I was at the first turnaround buoy, this is where the only real hassle of the day occurred. I got into a bit of tussle with a lad as he tried to come from wide, tight to the buoy across my line. I gave him a very gentle nudge to the right and there was a bit of tit for tat, I got ahead of him but as I did he made some sort of a swipe at my feet. Within a couple of mins I could feel that my timing chip was moving, this minor panic led to fully on panic when i could feel part of the strap was flapping against my feet. I felt I had no choice but to move right to shallower water and try sus out was it really loose … there was about 3 inches of the narrower part of the strap loose but i had no time to see if the chip was still attached so I just tucked under the wider part as best I could and got going again. The next 35 mins were torturous, would I get to the finish and my day be over before it started … I don’t know whether it put me off or was maybe a blessing in disguise but it kept my mind more than occupied. The last 300m after the 2nd turnaround buoy were a bit of a drag but then I hit the exit looked at my watch, 1:07, and then my ankle and spotted the yellow chip! SWEET!

Quick T1 and out onto the Bike. I thought Fiona had moved on already but I just caught her from the corner of my eye as I turned out onto the main road. In the rush I think I actually shouted “Well Done” to her … she later confirmed that and thought I was gone mad! The first hour on the bike flew by and I just concentrated on getting some water in over the first 30 mins and then just getting into a rhythm. I had started in wave 12 of 16 so there was already a lot of traffic on the course and I was constantly passing people over the first couple of hours. At one point I noticed I was passing guys numbered between 1000-2000 and I was 2774 so I began to worry I was pushing a little too hard but I felt fine and decided I’d just worry about how I felt myself and not where others were relative to me. Overall the bike was pretty uneventful but really enjoyable on the good surfaces. I just kept the average speed on 33km/h and made sure I was “eating” every 20mins. Solar was definitely the highlight of the bike course, you watch the YouTube videos in advance and read other race reports but it really is pretty special riding up the hill with the supporters just stepping aside at the last minute. I also had the pleasure of being pursued up the hill by two police outriders with Dirk Bockel steaming up behind them. The support all round the bike course was fantastic and there was some good banter out there too. I got a good laugh when I passed a lad with the name “Bent Koch” on his back. I also met Ivan Cummins during my second lap and we rode up the second half of the climb from Greding together before leap frogging each other a bit and then I finally lost him somewhere. Ivan had been having stomach trouble since the swim and was having patches on and off. I had one dodgy spell from the 4 – 5 hour mark on the bike with my stomach but compared to some I think I got away very lightly. Thankfully it coincided with the slightly lumpier portion of the course and being up off the tri bars helped to relieve problems. Just as the legs were started to give the first signs of gyp I hit the run in to T2 and finished up with a bike split of 5:27, just under my 5:30 target so another job done!

T2 was tidy enough again, very easy really when someone racks your bike for you and someone else all but dresses you! After my complete blow out in the Mallorca heat a few years ago I was paranoid about keeping on top my body temperature so from the very first aid station, just leaving T2, I established the routine of grabbing sponges on entering and leaving the aid stations, 2 would go over the head, another on my chest, another down the back of the neck and then 2 more on exiting over the head. The first couple of Ks were fine with a slight downhill and the legs felt surprisingly ok. We then had to make our way from Roth through a wooded area out towards the canal. I really suffered on this stretch and I was getting very worried about what was ahead only 3-4km into the run. What I didn’t realise until the run back out was that I was actually going up a pretty sharp incline in an area where there wasn’t a puff of air. As soon as I reached the canal where things levelled out and there was some air again I began to immediately feel better. For the next 10-15k or so I tipped along nicely just repeating the sponge routine and sipping on water and iso drinks. After about 8k I was walking all aid stations, I figured better to get the HR down a bit, get the sponges sorted and get some fluids in without trying to run and half choke on them. I can never manage to drink from paper cups on the run without inhaling half of it! When I think back I reckon there must have been fewer than 30% of people actually running the marathon and it was some sort of consolation to see some of the real skinnies suffering too. On 20k I stared feeling a bit knackered, thankfully Fiona was at the aid station on 22k and although she looked a bit alarmed at how I looked it still gave me a good gee up.

The worst stretch of the whole marathon was definitely 26k to 33k it took us through a place called Eckersmuhle and I’ll forever associate the place with suffering! It was a cruel part of the run, not surprising it was another section through a dry wooded area with no air. First we ran downhill into the town, then back out a long drag of about 1k to the top of another hill you then had to turn around run back down into the “pit” and back up out the other side. I walked the long drag and felt like swinging for a guy on a microphone at the top of a hill that was roaring at me to start running again! I had this German lad walking beside me who was wearing the same runners and tried to convince me that they were not good for marathons. I had to laugh as he was about the same size as my left leg and he was the one worried about cushioning. I decided that was a sign and got up on the toes again! Just before leaving Eckersmuhle a volunteer at the aid station tried to offer me beer! I was like WTF?? I actually tried it but immediately felt like vomming! I don’t know what happened after that, maybe it was being back on the canal again and getting a sniff of home, albeit with about 8/9k to go, but I started to fall into a nice little rhythm again just concentrating on getting from aid station to aid station. I guess it was getting cooler too. Finally I got back into Roth and Fiona was there again on 40k and I just roared at her to get into the stadium! I had a look at the watch and finally the numbers were easy enough to do the maths and I thought sub 11 could be on here. I absolutely burst myself and I mean burst myself to cover the last 2k to the point where I almost ignored Fiona running down the finishing chute and barrelled past a couple of lads along the way. I went under the line and the watch said 10:59:15. It would later turn out to be 11:03, probably Garmin auto pause or something but to be honest I got over it pretty quickly. Marathon split was 4:21 and if I had been offered that or 11:03 total before the race I’d have bitten your hand off. So much about the run was an unknown for me especially in the heat (about 27/28 on the day) so I was absolutely delighted.

After the race was a bit weird, I initially felt fine but 30 mins later I started to feel awful, I was totally dehydrated and shivering but couldn’t stomach anything and certainly not the shit load of free beer that was being handed out. A shower and believe it or not a blue slush puppy sorted me out! :0)

The only downside to staying in Nuremberg was we didn’t get to hang around in Roth that evening after the race. To be honest I wasn’t too pushed anyway, we celebrated by blowing a small fortune in Burger King instead and figured with our trip to Barcelona coming up we’d have plenty of nights to make up for it. Plus I was fairly shattered! :0)

Thinking back 2 Weeks Later

I think overall I had as good a race as I could have imagined, I think I was very lucky on the day in terms of my stomach, no mechanicals, no major hassle in the swim. I also think I got out of it what I deserved in terms of the training I put in. I was delighted with my swim and bike and the run went as well as I could have hoped for my first ever marathon. I reckon I will definitely go again … I thoroughly enjoyed the day (well 90%) of it and more importantly than that I really enjoyed the training. What could I do different? I’m not sure I would change much on the swim training, if I could maintain that level I would be pretty happy given the time investment needed to improve dramatically it’s probably not worth it. I think on a similar course I could maybe go a little quicker on the bike but I really think there’s room for improvement on the run. Next time I’ll be in a much better position to judge my energy levels versus what’s left to do. But that’s for down the road. One thing I did find a huge benefit was getting regular massages every 2-3 weeks which I started back in March roughly. Colum in the Natural Healing centre in Cork looked after me and he got me to the start line in great nick with no niggles at all.

Lots of people were extremely supportive over the 7 months, from the lads I work with to the gang in De Ronde Van Cork CC and of course the gang in T3 Tri Club. Fiona’s mam Susan kept me fuelled with a weekly mahuusive batch of flapjacks and other “healthy” baked snacks. Sometimes I felt like she was trying to slow me down though! My own parents , although thinking I was stone mad , and obsessing about my weight were brilliant throughout and delighted for me at the end, even if they were convinced I crossed the line 2 hours before I did?? :0) I will let the hair grow again mam, relax!

Above anyone else though I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my new fiancé (I know I typed the word Fiona, that doesn’t mean I’ll say it! ). Fiona was just unbelievable throughout, she literally did everything for me and there is zero chance I could have trained the way I did or come close to getting the time I did without her. From making sure I ate really well with great dinners and lunches for work to organising gear and sacrificing weekends she did it all without ever giving out. What’s more she just really bought into the whole thing from the start, even learning the lingo, bricks, HR zones you name it she knew the craic and was not afraid to give me the kick in the ass I needed from time to time. Fiona thanks for everything! Payback’s a bitch eh? :0)

I’d love to go again next year but there’s a small matter of a wedding to plan! Roll on 2015 & the next one!! Hopefully with T3 company next time??