After Switzerland and a week back on deck I fortunately had a couple of weeks annual leave booked in. I think for anyone who is doing an Ironman some time off after is pretty important! I was certainly physically and mentally a bit gone and it's hard to keep pushing forward after such a big event.
Two weeks in France was on the diary, the first week I spent on actual holiday with Rosie in Annecy. Some very fun light training and ticking over but mostly rest and recovery (or hiking, paddle boarding, cycling, swimming!). After that it was onto Alpe Dhuez for a week including a race and some fairly big bike miles.
This was my 4th year at Alpe Dhuez and taking on the world famous triathlon there. It is one of my favourite races in the world and one I feel should be on most athletes bucket list! You start with a 2.2km swim in a beautiful hydro dam with the Alps towering above, you then ride 120kms with 3200m climbing (3 main climbs) and the end of the bike is of course up Alpe Dhuez the 14kms 21 hairpin 7.9% average climb. At the top around 1800m you run a 20km undulating on/off road run! It is somewhere between a half and full ironman and always a long day out in baking heat!
It's a Thursday race and we arrived in the Alps on the Monday for a few days of "light" training and enjoying the landscape. One thing I find really bizarre before this race, possibly as you are all in such a small area is the couple of days before are a real pissing contest. Every run I was going on you'd seem to have people staring, judging etc, the same would be in the pool with guys sprinting past you or getting right on your feet. On the bike everyone looking at each others's set ups or how hard you're riding the Alpe before the race. For me I just don't get this, focus on yourself, your own race and save all the bravado and energy for race day!
Soon enough race day came around and I was heading down the Alpe to the swim start, I hadn't felt great energy wise all week and my plan was to just enjoy the day out and do as solid as I could. I hoped I would ride strong anyway after my recent form. I'll be honest I hate the swim at Alpe Dhuez its a fairly chaotic mass start and I always find myself getting dunked, pulled pushed and punched, this year was no different and I almost had a panic attack. I get why people enjoy mass starts and not rolling but this swim is just always chaotic. I kept telling myself it would spread out and strangely it just didn't, I guess I was swimming that pace a lot of guys can hold and just tried to keep to my own space as best as possible and control my breathing. It was a relief to get out the swim in a decent time! Into transition and all my kit was actually covered by Sam Long's wetsuit, for some reason he didn't use his transition bag and this cost me quite a bit of time. He got a penalty for this and I've seen has tried to justify it on social media since but we all had the bags..so I'm not sure I buy that.
Onto the bike and the first year for me on a TT bike, it's always a debate before the race which is faster but honestly I think if you can climb and descend any course can work on a TT bike. The start of the bike is fast and furious down to the first climb with a lot of guys fighting to move up the field its great time to get settled have a drink and prepare for the climbs ahead. I learnt in my years previous that guys go off so hard in this race, on the first climb it's like the TDF with attacks all over the place. For me I just stick to my own power, race my own effort and stay confident that I'll see some of the guys later. Coming onto the first descent I had a few guys passing me on road bikes and started questioning my choice, however just as I thought that on the next hairpin 3 guys went down in-front of me and crashed into the wall, this race is all about risk vs reward!
I felt strong enough on the ride, I climbed well but struggled a bit on the flatter long drag sections, it wasn't the same feelings as IM Swiss but to be expected I just kept the head down and tried to keep hydrated. Good friend John Macavoy was appearing in different parts of the course in a lead car and his encouragement and energy kept the spirits high and the motivation to keep pushing.
Off the final desecent I was still feeling good and mentally ready for the Alpe. Again from experience and years before I knew a lot of guys would be suffering up the Alpe and slowing down, the last time I raced I caught about 20 or so guys on the climb and no one caught me, I decided this would be a similar target! Unless you've ridden it its hard to explain the first 1-5 hairpins on Alpe Dhuez, they hit you like a wall and at that stage the climb seems fairly endless after already 100kms and over 2000m climbing its even worse! However I soon found my rhythm, good power to ride at and started catching a lot of guys, no one overtook me on the climb and I was able to drop anyone I was with. Good feelings to go into the run!
At this point I knew I wasn't in an amazing position, I knew the race had a seriously strong field so my hopes of top 15-20 were long gone but I wanted to aim for around top 30 or so. Onto the run I didn't feel great, I struggled to get into a rhythm which that course does to you and the altitude and ride were getting to me. I ran solid enough catching quite a few guys but was frustrated not to be able to go with guys who came past on their laps 2/3. I pride myself on my strong run so when it's a struggle I do find this difficult mentally to dig in. They had a new section this year running down the steepest airfield I have ever seen so this was killing the legs every lap along with all the other small ups and downs. I just tried to enjoy it, push the best I could and keep fighting on.
On the second half of the last lap I just relaxed I knew I was in 31st probably wouldn't catch anyone else and wanted to enjoy racing in such an amazing place. I had an ironman in me and this race was meant to be more for "fun". It's funny when you relax a bit, stand a bit taller and enjoy yourself I think you naturally start to run better. I crossed the line happy enough in 7 hours 44 minutes. Deep down I was a bit disappointed I wasn't more in the race or higher up but given the previous months and effort I think it was the best I could manage on the day. I have dreams of a top 15 at Alpe Dhuez one day and this is a race I'll definitely look to target in a future year.
Top tips for racing Alpe Dhuez!
- Pace yourself it's a long day with a lot of climbing, don't forget about the Alpe and the run!
- Pick your gearing and set up wisely, TT bars are a must but so are low gears
- Stay calm in the swim, keep to the outside and possibly start further back
- Use the downhills on the run, they hurt but can keep your pace rolling!
- Look around you, enjoy the landscape and where you are racing it doesn't get much better
- Stay a couple days after the race and enjoy the scenery, riding and what is on offer!
More to come on Part 2.
When I finished the last blog post I said I would write a bit more about the Ironman before moving on. It's been a few weeks and I wasn't sure if it would still really be relevant but sometimes with distance and time after an event and performance our thoughts and reflections are clearer.
I have looked back at my training, build up and prep and had time to consolidate what I did on the day and how it went. With an Ironman there are so many unknowns and even with all the training it still comes down to the day.
My build up I think was the best I could have done, the bike was the main focus and I'm still surprised with how well I rode on the day. This came down to some really specific workouts but also just solid TT time in the saddle and being confident in pushing for the hours. Also doing some long rides over 200kms meant the ride actually felt quite short and fast so mentally it was easier. For sure I think I could be more "aero" on the bike and work on my position and set up but right now that's not something I can afford to invest in.
I did wonder if I missed a good solid final 30km build run or so but to be honest I was so fatigued a couple of weeks before the race I didn't have time to fit this in. Looking at the race I am a bit frustrated with my run, 20-30kms the pace just dropped, my stomach hurt and I couldn't push what I wanted. I do feel I am yet to run my marathon potential in an IM. I'm unsure if its nutrition, harder training sessions or similar. However the only way I can replicate the feel would be to do 42km runs off a 5hr bike.. I plan to go away and look at this as I truly do feel I could run a marathon around 3:50-55 per km all going well.
My swim I was super happy with, I actually always swim better open water than in a pool and I couldn't believe how comfortable I felt in the swim. I was doing a lot of open water in the build up and a lot of wetsuit swimming which I really feel helped. Over all the races and distances I have done I do think the 3.8kms is my favourite to swim, you aren't trying or going full gas but its a smooth tempo rhythm.
The race and performance has given me a lot of confidence, after last years Ironman (my first) I did think I was solid over this distance so to have more evidence is a great feeling. I'm still far from my full potential over the distance which is really exciting. I. believe I know how to do an IM build up, race on the day and get the most from myself. For sure there is more I could do and race better but in a way im exactly where I want to be. I now have some quite big ambitions and certainly want to look at this distance and racing more seriously.
Final point - Kona. I have dreamt a long time of racing and going to Kona. Being on the island with the best athletes in the World racing on such a brutal course. I qualified at Thun and as customary was offered my slot and to pay there and then to head off this October. However I turned this down, quite simply I couldn't afford it and thus the issue with Kona and Ironman.
I don't even know the entry fee but I assume upwards of 600-800 dollars and they want you to pay the same day as you have just finished an already expensive ironman? The other issues is this years race athletes have rolled over from 2020/21 so the island is completely at capacity accommodation wise. I think to go for the week would cost in excess of £10k, it's just insane. I didn't race Switzerland to try and go but I find it hard to turn it down and how un accessible its becoming. Is it a World champs or just people who can afford it? Are the best athletes really there? It's funny I was 3rd overall and won my AG by a long way and you just get a trophy. Wouldn't it be great to get a free IM entry? Discounted entry to a race of choice or better yet a free slot to Worlds?! Anyway just some thoughts to close out this post, I'd have loved to race the Worlds and hopefully another year but the issues won't go away overnight.
Last Sunday I would say I delivered the performance of my life. 8 hours 53 minutes across the line. 3rd overall. 1st in age group. A performance that was months in the making, took everything I had to deliver and I probably couldn’t be much happier. My second Ironman a new PB and a big goal achieved.
My splits broke down as
56 swim. 5:00 bike. 2:51 marathon.
On race morning I woke up nervous excited and a bit stressed. I was up around 3 am and actually slept sound the night before. Breakfast was easy to digest and the body felt okay a little heavy. Down to race site and I was one of the first in transition, I wanted time to relax set up and feel in control all day. I did a bit of a jog warm up and swim cords to wake up more but also took time to just sit in silence, reflect and calm down.
I had this before at outlaw but in the swim pen and before the start I just wanted to cry. I’m not sure if it’s nerves, excitement or emotion but I didn’t mind the feeling. The sun was rising over the mountains and the lake and it’s just overwhelming thinking about what’s to come. I always tell myself once the gun goes all will be good.
I was the first group into the water and got off to a solid swim start, it was a nice temperature good visibility and I just felt fast. I could put pressure on the stroke and just ticked off the swim bouy to bouy. A few people caught me I caught a few people, no stress just good solid swimming. Once I knew I didn’t have far to go I tried to pick up the rate push on and finish the swim, I just remember thinking how beautiful it was with the sunrise, mountains and huge crowds lining the banks. Out the swim I felt good and hoped I’d hit a good time.
Into t1 and I actually had planned to go fast through transitions. I knew sub 9 would be a matter of minutes and I had a mantra all day: minutes matter. I got what I needed wasted no time and out onto the bike. Checking my garmin I saw id swam And t1 all under 1 hour. A very good start.
The bike was two laps of 90km with about 1100m elevation per lap. Onto the bike and I just felt incredible, my legs were there they could push when needed I felt aero, fast and in good control. I tried to eat a lot early on (solid foods) and stay hydrated. I rode alone for about 15kms and then randomly a guy I had raced a few weeks ago rode up and we seemed to be around the same pace. We worked together (as much as you can non drafting) and started to push on. The first half of the bike is pretty fast rolling and some great TT sections with the climbs and challenges coming on the second half. I always keep this in mind managed my power and got into a good rhythm. I was holding a higher speed that I thought I could on the course and just felt in control. I don’t ride to power or HR etc when racing just on feel.
Knowing towards the end of the first lap the speed was good and possibly sub 5 hours was on was super encouraging I rode past my support crew of my Mum Dad and good friend Will and got some splits and positions, I couldn’t really hear them but as we had a little out and back I knew I was in the race. I had been quite surprised no Uber riders has overtaken me and I was holding position this usually happens in most races to me!
Onto the second lap still riding with Stephen I wanted to try and push on. The heat started to rise and my stomach got quite tight. I had a rough patch and the wind picked up quite a lot, the average speed dropped and I had a worry that things would go downhill, after 20 more ks things started to feel good again, the power rose climbs came easier and speed held. The last 15-20kms of the course were actually really enjoyable, super fast flat TT roads speed always over 40km/h and a 5 hour ride was on the cards. Just get to transition with no mistakes and it’s go time.
Into transition 5 hours exactly. Sub 9 was on just don’t fuck up the marathon. Again a fairly fast transition, I actually was dizzy and confused in transition and forgot some gells to grab but out onto the run I calmed down. They make you run around a track at the start of each lap and actually this was quite nice to settle in and just get focused away from the big crowds!
The first 5ks I felt incredible, I was running by feel around 3:30-40 pace, I knew I wouldn’t hold that for the whole marathon but decided to just run and stick with the pace as long as I could. A lot of people say the marathon starts at 30kms but that’s bollocks it starts out of transition. The support team were giving me splits and telling me positions if im honest I couldn’t really hear or understand I think I was top 15 and on the age group podium. Good enough but work to do.
For me the first 20km were fairly easy good running nice pace and tempo. I spewed a bit after 18k and couldn’t take on much more food, my gells were also really warm so I decided to just take on some coke when I could and run "empty". 20-30kms were rough, I felt really hot, frustrated I couldn't run faster and like I wasn't making much progress - I was running faster than anyone on course but it just didn't compute to me, I stopped asking for splits and just wanted encouragement.
After the 2nd lap of 3 I had a pep talk to myself, one lap to go 14kms this is on. I started to check my watch and pace and realised sub 9 was on as was a sub 3 hour marathon. I was angry at myself at one point for thinking oh I can slow down and take it easier, I had always wanted to empty myself out there and not settle for anything less. I started to control my splits more, my stomach pain went and I felt I could run again. I was just ticking off section by section knowing I was getting so much closer. Its funny in an Ironman when you have anywhere under 10kms to go it seems like nothing! With 5kms to go I really tried to stand tall focus and finish the job. 2kms to go this is on, your on the overall podium, won your age group and about to go sub 9. My aim was always sub 9 and an AG podium so to take the win finish 3rd that was very special, on that course sub 9 was always going to be such a long shot.
I can't explain the finishing chute. The noise to me was deafening, I was screaming and just so happy I was more or less sprinting and getting the crowd fired up. I crossed the line to the voice of Paul Kaye and just felt completely overwhelmed with emotion. I went back along the finishing chute found the parents for a big hug and some tears and thanked the incredible crowd. I think moments like this are when its all worth it for me, that other people can see and feel how much it means to you is very special. All day the crowds were incredible but in that finish that was something else.
It's funny I didn't feel too bad straight after, my legs were gone and cramping but I think the happiness, endorphins and pure delight took over. I was easily walking around thanking some people and just utterly buzzing! It was very special to spend this time with my parents and Will and quickly get Rosie on the phone!
I have written this as piece 3/3 but I have decided I'll be writing another post from the ironman some further thoughts, reflections and a bit more about my training in the lead in. If you want something more just ask or let me know.
If you have made it this far thank you! and Thank you for all the kind messages, comments etc since Sunday its such a nice feeling that others case.
So here we are, the day before Ironman Switzerland. I write this on the balcony of one of the most beautiful places I have ever stayed, a small Village called Krattigen overlooking Interlaken and the high alpine mountains that tower over us. It is hard to believe places like this exist, that beauty like this you can just access, train or race in or just enjoy. Certainly a great race for my parents and good friend Will to come out for!
Tomorrow I'll line up at 6:40am and be going for it, a super hard course out here but probably the most beautiful place I have ever raced or seen. I rode the course last weekend on the bike and this really helped my mindset and to know how my shape is, whilst hilly the bike has some seriously fast and flat sections so overall it won't be a "slow" course.
Last week wasn't great and I started to worry and stress, all week I felt exhausted, kept needing to nap, could barely turn the pedals on the bike and motivation was pretty low. I've also been dealing with some personal things and this was all ramping up right at the wrong time. I kept telling myself I had time to freshen up, rest up and that I'd be okay. It was really hard to keep the mind at rest but with some good people on the end of the phone I kept calm and just listened to the body.
At the weekend when I went to Thun I did my final prep sessions that I'd been delaying and actually felt very good, the feelings had come back and I felt the sharpness that I needed. I also was starting to feel super excited for the race, really up for it and mentally started to shift some of the anxiety fog that I deal with.
It's funny, I wrote out my plans for the. 3 weeks leading up to the race and these have changed daily, I listened to my body, trusted how I felt and kept changing things. I feel with experience a a coach I can do that and trust in the changes. A plan is great but you need to be flexible things happen and change.
I tried to keep life load and stress quite low this week along with physical stress, If im honest I think that's the hardest thing to "taper" or control, no one really cares you have a race life keeps going on and people push on with their agendas regardless. You just have to manage what you can, control what you can and put other things away in your head.
Anyway, here we are in Thun arrived yesterday and done all the usual pre race training and logistics. I feel excited, ready to go but incredibly nervous and a little anxious. An ironman is no small feat. regardless of how normalised it is these days its a bloody big day out and in places and courses like here even harder.
I have high expectations for tomorrow, I know I'm fit, I have done the work and I feel confident. I know I'll go to a few dark places and there will be highs and lows which I can't control.
I'll report back after the race, ironically I won't publish any of this until after the race but that's where my head is at the day before.
See you on the other side.