If you´re on for a challenge at the start of the triathlon season, pack you´re kit and head to Lanzarote for Tri122 – a relatively new triathlon on the Lanzarote triathlon scene. I decided to ´give it a lash ´ – this is my report.
Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Fin, a friend of mine who lives in Lanzarote called me last November and told me about this half ironman distance race that was being held in March called Tri122. I was just coming to the end of my first year in triathlon, had recently finished the Lost Sheep and thought if I signed up for this one then at least I would have something to train for during the winter.
While Lanzarote has traditionally been famous for it´s Ironman in May, triathlons from sprint to half ironman distance are now being run right throughout the year. There are 3 half ironman races this year alone, Tri122 being one of them. In it´s 3rd year, Tri122 is a locally organised race consisting of a short and long course – 1:60:10 and 2:100:20. The race is based out of Costa Teguise with the bike route running up around the north of the island.
The first big challenge was of course getting approval from Anne-Marie. We had a new baby in the house and me signing up for a half ironman meant that I wasn´t going to be around to help with the baby as much as I should have. Approval secured I signed up for the race and booked the flight… now I was committed.
So, I started into training which was great because I like having a target and something to aim for. I had no illusion even before I went over to Lanzarote that it wasn´t going to be an easy race. I know that anyone that has done the Lost Sheep in Kenmare will say that is tough race and it is, but do any long distance race in Lanzarote and you´re stepping up a notch. For years I´ve gone to Lanzarote to windsurf and when that northerly wind blows it can really blow. In recent times of course I´ve swopped the board & sail for the bike and I´ve found that Lanzarote can be an unforgiving place on the cyclist. It´s completely open – no hedges or vegetation for shelter and there are very few flat parts to the island. Added to that is the heat though I hoped that racing in March it mightn´t be so bad.
Training went well right up to Christmas until of course the storms started rolling in and my programme started getting messed up. Long bike sessions that were to take place at weekends moved indoors and running in cold, wet weather just wasn’t pleasant. All the same I kept going and as January moved on into February I started counting the days down and looked forward to heading over – then I got sick !
Since I took to swimming and the bike a few years ago and then triathlon last year I haven´t got sick once. I took personal pride in the fact that my new found fitness regime had seemingly sorted out my immune system. Sure I would get the odd sniffle or sore throat but nothing a quick dose of medication wouldn´t fix and I never caught anything that would stop me training until February came and I got a dose of tonsillitis. The doctor told me not to train for a week and that I would be hammered for another week after that from the medication – the blood almost drained from my face – did she not know what I was training for?
Once recovered, I eased back into training. The break was great as I felt like a new man. All the aches and pains were gone and I faced back into training with gusto. Then I got sick again – a dose of the flue 2 weeks later – another week out of commission and if that wasn´t bad enough the week before the race, a chest infection and some kind of virus knocked me out for another few days. I was starting to panic. I was wondering was I even going to get to the starting line, let alone finish the race. I even considered taking a step back and doing the shorter race.
The time came to head to Lanzarote. I packed my bag and the bike and headed south the Tuesday before the race. It was nice to get away from the crappy Irish weather to a place where a t-shirt and shorts was the required dress code.
I unpacked and inspected the bike – it got over in one piece thankfully. Did a handy 40k to check it over and ease myself into the warm weather. It felt good to ride in summer gear again! I even had to wear sunblock ! A 10k run the following morning also went well. I was really looking forward to the race until we checked the forecast. After 10 days of calm weather the winds were returning with a vengeance. The forecast was giving 40kph winds from the North gusting to 50kph. Not good. The nerves started building.
We drove up to Costa Teguise to scout out the swim location that was indicated on the route maps. We were met with other participants who were in the water with the same idea. We didn´t need too much convincing to get into the water so it was on with the wetsuits and into a warmer corner of the Atlantic Ocean ! It was weird being in water that was so clear you could see shoals of fish all the way to the bottom – a far cry from the World´s End in Castleconnell.
On the Friday night we went up to Costa Teguise to register and sit in on the race briefing. Of course with all events we attend we go to the registration mildly curious as to what we will get in the goodie bag. Some are good, some not so good – for the many participants that had travelled from near and far, Tri122 organisers had lined up … a t-shirt … and a small white sponge. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the sponge was to be brought with you on the run for sponging yourself with water. There was even an instruction sheet on how to use it ! ( in the end I forgot to bring mine and just poured cups of water over my head ).
Of course when you´re relatively new to a sport and you go to an event like this you can sometimes feel a little intimidated when you look around at your fellow competitors. There was a serious amount of fit, tanned individuals in the room. Every second person had some item of clothing with ´Ironman´ on it. The field itself was quiet small – only 115 registered for the long race and 93 for the short race, which is a shame really for the amount of work the organisers must have put into it. Most of the field were Spanish. About 19 from the UK, 5 Irish and a few others from Europe and beyond made up the rest. I´m sure the Spaniards in particular would be well used to the heat.
The safety brief threw up another surprise. The location of the transition and swim was not going to be where every one thought. They were moved over to the other side of Costa Teguise into the big bay ( for those that know the location, where the main beach and windsurfers frequent ). In my own mind I was half glad as I reasoned with the high winds forecast the swim in the bay would be more sheltered – or at least I thought it would. It was also going to be a bit weird starting a triathlon in a bay that I windsurfed 20 years ago!
Race day started with a 5.45am alarm. On waking up I heard the racket outside from the wind – the forecast was right. The gear was loaded from the night before so all we had to do was eat and go. Once up at transition I walked in with my bike and was asked for my passport. I gave the guy a ´do you think I am dumb enough to bring a passport to a triathlon ´ look and showed him my LTC ID card instead which he was happy enough with. Got the kit set up and returned to the car park to get the gear on. Though it was overcast I knew it was due to burn off. No shortage of factor 50 for this race. As I pulled the wetsuit up over my waist Fin announced that he had forgotten his bike shoes. What a spanner ! I couldn´t believe it. He had rung his parents to go to his place, grab the shoes and make the 30 minute journey from his place to Costa Teguise. Hopefully they would get up in time.
Fin´s equipment faux pas was still sinking in when the PA started calling on everyone to leave transition and proceed to the beach, which was about 200m away. Of course I had hoped for a nice flat calm water surface but as I approached the beach I couldn´t help but notice the rescue boats bouncing up and down – so much for it being sheltered ! The best I could compare the sea conditions to was last year´s Hell of the West in Kilkee. My nerves got worse!
The short distance race was getting under way first at 8am with the longer distance kicking off at 8.30am. As I stood with my arms folded watching the short distance group assemble at the start line one thing caught my eye…a timing chip on someone´s leg..I didn´t have mine. Swung around in a panic looking for Fin…which isn´t that easy given that everyone kinda looks the same when they are wearing wetsuits and swim caps. Luckily I found him and we legged it back to transition to find his car key and then up to the car park to grab the chip. Crisis averted I returned to the beach. The short distance group had started their swim. The bike shoes made it.
I got into the water and swam for a bit to warm up. The waves breaking on the shore didn´t encourage me to stay in for too long and anyway everyone was called out to assemble at the start. The last of the short distance swimmers were leaving the water when we were sent off. I ran into the water and once I started swimming all the pre-race nerves disappeared. It was time to just get on with it. The course was a triangle – off out to the right, left across the bay, and left again to the beach – twice. Sighting was ok for the first leg because there was a good landmark on the shore beyond the first buoy. The leg across the bay was problematic though. It was difficult enough to sight with the swell rolling in but while the turn buoy was yellow, so were the swim caps, the rescue boats and everyone in the rescue boats. Found it very hard to spot from a distance which was which. I definitely saw a few swimmers veer off in the wrong direction!
At the end of the first lap I ran out of the water and over the timing mat. With all the bobbing and rolling in the water my balance wasn´t the best and I must have looked a funny sight. I was glad to get back into the water again cause my head cleared. Finished out the second lap and ran up to transition. Knocked back some fluids and a gel and off I went on the bike course.
The bike was murder. A long pull out of the Costa Teguise was made more difficult with strong winds hitting me side-on. Once onto the main road we swung North up to Orzola at the top of the island, about 30k away. It was like cycling into a wall. I´ve never cycled into winds as strong. I spend the whole time down on the drops with my head down as low as I could go trying to make some bit of decent progress. I passed a German girl on a tribike and she screamed at me ´this is insane´.
The only good thing about heading up to Orzola was the thoughts of turning around and coming back down the same road with a gale behind me and when I did it was mighty fun. All too soon though, it was time to turn inland and up the main climb at Tabeyesco. Those missed bike rides during January and February came home to roost as I struggled up the climb which is about 11km in length. A fast downhill from the summit brought me back down to Tahiche and unfortunately back into that wind which if anything had strengthened. After another 10km of torture I finally turned and had the wind behind me back to Costa Teguise. On the final descent down into town I had to slow down as I struggled to keep the bike on the road from the now insane wind that was hitting me side-on.
During the bike I was conscious in the heat of not getting dehydrated or burnt out so piled in the fluids and gels at regular intervals. I think I went through almost 4 bottles of fluids. One bottle which I grabbed as I passed a water station was water with a spoon of salt in it. It tasted aweful but did the business as I was loosing a lot of salt from sweating.
I was relieved if not a little bit smashed by the time I got back to transition. The bike had taken me over 4hrs 10mins….40 mins longer than I had planned but I don´t think I could have gone any faster with the conditions. Now came the run – my least favourite discipline. The last thing I recall on the bike computer was the temperature – 28°C. The cloud cover was well burnt off.
I found the run pretty tough. The course was a 5km run out along the beachfront and back, twice. On the turn at 10km to head back out again I spotted Fin cheering me on. He was out of his trisuit and out of the race. Unfortunately an injury to his leg which he was carrying into the start determined he didn´t take any further part after the bike route. Turning at that 10km point with the finish line within arms reach was demoralising, but at least I didn’t have far to go.
Despite running well in training I struggled through most of the run, switching more to the less orthodox run/walk combination to get through to the end. With about 4km to go I was plodding along when one of the organisers pulled up next to me on a bike encouraging me along. ´You still have time´ she said as she cycled on. That got me thinking about the cut off. I had totally forgotten about that. My pace went up ! ( afterwards I found out the cut-off was extended by an hour because of the winds – phew ).
Turning that corner and seeing the finish line came with an overwhelming sense of relief. I saw the clock say 7:05 and immediately cursed myself for not going 6 minutes faster – but that was just me being me. I was exhausted but I made it.
I think near the end it was stubborness and the fear of going home and telling my 7 year old son that daddy didn´t finish his triathlon that drove me on towards the finish. Oh, and of course I couldn´t let the club down particularly after getting the good luck message on Facebook ( which meant a lot ) !! Finally, that finishers medal was really nice and I wanted one !!!
It was a tough experience for me. Thinking back on the day I must say I enjoyed it and the sense of achievement in crossing that finish line was something to savour. I learned a hell of a lot about triathlon and in particular about myself. All of us go into a race with an idea in our heads of what we would like to achieve. I was disappointed I didn´t get home in the time I had set out to achieve but I faced conditions I had not encountered before and struggled as a result. Training through one of the worst winters we have had in recent times and getting sick in the weeks before the race did me no favours either.
While out on the bike it struck me how much more difficult it must be to do a full Ironman particularly in a place like Lanzarote. I found my thoughts drifting to fellow club members who are preparing to take on the challenge in various locations this year. You have my admiration and respect.
Finally a big thanks to all those that helped and encouraged me in preparing for the race. Most of all though I have to thank my wife Anne-Marie. Words cannot describe how wonderful she is and it is because of her support and willingness to put up with me doing this brilliant sport that allowed me to cross that finish line ! Thanks dotey pet !