Last weekend was the first race of the season, Ironman NZ. I've never raced an Ironman so early in the season before; usually I like to build up to a big race, but I thought I would throw myself in at the deep end with all the Australians and Kiwis who have been racing hard all through their summer and see what happens.
I'd spent a couple of weeks in Australia getting ready for the race, acclimatising to the time zone and becoming acquainted with my great new Ridley Noah RS TT bike. Training has been going really well, I’ve found a great chaingang here in Albury and some nights there are 80 guys out there! With a great winters run and swim training behind me back in the UK, I was all ready to go and knowing that NZ would be much cooler than the 40 degrees I had been training in, I was hopeful I’d be able to show my face near the sharp end of the race.
Come race day it was quite cool, only 6 degrees at the start - it was pretty much just like being back in the UK! The field at IM NZ was stacked, it seemed most people wanted an early season "hit out" and I was looking forward to getting my 2014 campaign underway.
I knew the swim would be fast, some of the best open water swimmers in triathlon were on the startline but I managed to hang in there and come out with the front pack. The swim is almost an anti-climax during an Ironman, the racing only really starts when you get on the bike…
I wanted a solid race so the plan was just ride with the group. I was feeling really great; I just sat there, paid attention to my nutrition and watched the kilometres roll by. We went through 100km and I could tell people were starting to struggle but I felt fine, the speed would pick up in the group and I found I could just push on the pedals and close any gaps with ease. I knew the last bit of the bike would see some action and it did as Marco Albert rode off (which to be honest I thought was a bit of an ill-advised push). A little later one of the more recognised cyclists, Romaine Guillaime attacked with about 50km to go. I waited to see if his move would stick, which it did and then put in a 5min effort to bridge up to him. I ended up just following him all the way back in, there was a huge headwind and I could tell he was pushing the pace and dying a little, even I was finding it a bit grippy! With 10km to go on the bike Romain's chain came off, so it left me by myself to ride into T2 in second place a few minutes behind the flying Marco Albert. I hadn't accounted for how much the group I had been in would push the pace behind though. I know if I could come off the bike with Romain I could have run with him as we are similar runners, sadly his unshipped chain put pay to that.
As I found my way out to T2 I realised that the group was right on top of me, all that effort to get away was for nothing! I ran through 5km in just under 20mins and felt comfortable but then I started to have serious tummy issues. A few portaloos later I started to feel ok again and ran well until the 20km mark which is when I really started to crack. That big effort that I’d used to bridge the 30second gap up to Romain on the bike started to bite my legs and I started to majorly slow down. My feet were in agony, I’ve no idea why and I struggled through the second of 3 laps of the run going to some very dark places. I started to come back round on the last lap but I’d already lost so much time I had no idea where I was!
I just wanted to finish so ran the last 10k as well as I could and even with walking the aid stations, I was moving at sub 3h marathon pace, the problem was I had already lost 20 minutes on the second lap struggling round with gastric issues and shot legs.
My 3h 18min marathon time is really not where my fitness is at the moment, I know I’m in sub 3h shape and was quite disappointed with how the run went. It's just from 20 to 30km I really need to focus and not push things as much on the bike. I know I can close gaps quickly so it's easy for me to go above threshold for long periods of time, only for it to come back and bite me in the bum later on in the run.
I managed to finish 8th in the end, not a fantastic result but I was pleased with the end of the run, it shows if I can just put it together and go under 2h 55min for the marathon. I will get the chance to do it all again in 3 weeks’ time at Ironman Melbourne so really looking forward to that!
All in all a solid start to the season, it's only the beginning of March there is plenty of time for fireworks in 2014.