My Ironman Journey

Smiles All Around!

akhilvizby akhilvizJun 28th 2014

Let’s recap…

Following on from my first middle distance triathlon of the season about two months ago, I took another bite at the apple at the Cotswolds 113. This race was held on the 15th of June at a stunning location with an extremely friendly bike and run course!

For those who don’t know, the Cotswolds is located north-east of Bristol and is known amongst cyclists for its hilly terrain. Therefore you must be thinking that the bike course for this triathlon must have been full of long, steep hills. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case as the bike course was predominantly flat with only one minor bump making this an extremely fast course! That’s right; a good opportunity to clock your personal best!

After competing at the ICAN Malaga at the end of April, I spent about 10 days recovering from that race before getting myself back into full-time training for the Cotswolds 113. I was surprised by the fact that it took me over a week to recover as I tend to be back in the game within 2-3 days. It goes to show how unpredictable the body can be and the extended recovery period could have been a result of long term exhaustion. I had to listen to these symptoms and take the appropriate rest to avoid over-training and the possibility of getting injured.

So at the beginning of May, I got myself together and began focusing on my preparations for the Cotswolds 113. I used my performance from the ICAN Malaga to set myself new targets to try and achieve. My aim was therefore to try and swim 1.9km in under 30mins, cycle 90km in under 2 hours and 25 minutes, and run 21km in 90 minutes. The overall of target of mine was to complete the entire race in less than 4 hours and 30 minutes.

My training had definitely improved during the six weeks leading up to the Cotswolds 113 especially in the swim department. I also had a few confidence boosting run sessions which spurred me on whilst the weather was doing its best to demotivate me!

In addition, I also found a training buddy; Chi Zhang who happens to be a work colleague and for some strange reason also want to participate in an Ironman triathlon in the near future. I told him that he is throwing himself into a never-ending downward spiral by getting involved in this crazy sport (hint of sarcasm there!).

En-route to the Cotswolds

My parents flew over from Gibraltar a few days before the race and thankfully brought the Mediterranean weather with them! They also brought a big block of Spanish Cheese! Yes, I have a strange love for cheese ;-) It’s a good source of protein right?

As I lowered my training volume and intensity, my food consumption increased. How could I possibly say no to my mum’s lovely cooking?

Enough about food and let’s get back to triathlon!

As per the norm, the day prior to the race was all about registration and preparing for the race. I drove up to the event site and picked up my registration pack. I also met up with a budding Ironman triathlete and close friend, Adam Newell, who was going to race his first ever middle distance triathlon. Adam is currently training to race at Ironman Wales later this year and is doing so to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Society. Together, Adam and I assessed the swim course from the edge of the lake and then figured out the logistics around the transition area. It all seemed straightforward so I decided to head back home to get to bed nice and early. By that I mean 7pm! Since the race start time was 6am and bikes had to racked on the morning of the race, it meant having to wake up super early to drive up to the Cotswolds, set-up my bike and then zip myself into my wetsuit. The majority of middle and long distance triathlon races enable participants to rack their bikes the day before the race which allows for some extra sleep!

Race Day Drama

Waking up at 3am was a bit of a struggle. A few slices of toast and a strong coffee woke me up but I was still groggy about the fact that I had to wake up that early! Chi turned up at 4am as he offered his services as a photographer, support crew and bike mechanic.

We arrived at the race venue at about 5.10am which didn’t give me much time to set-up my bike and get dressed. It was all a bit rushed but I managed to get into the water, slip on my goggles and swim cap just before the gun went off!

Make or Break?

Without a warm up and a rushed entry into the water, I just began swinging my arms like the blades of a windmill. I just told myself ‘to go for it!’. It was a slow start as I got held up by a large group in front of me. I slowly had to climb over some swimmers to get ahead into some clear water. Every time I tried breaking away from the group, there would be a swimmer blocking my path. I had to re-think my strategy as I clearly was not able to get ahead and find my rhythm. I continued swimming behind the group and decided to go for a short sprint after reaching the first buoy. As the first buoy approached, I began looking ahead after every stroke to assess my position relative to those in front of me. I noticed a gap between 4 swimmers who were to my left. Since we had to turn left after the buoy, I decided to aim for the 4 swimmers to my left and use them to help me break away from the group. As we approached the buoy I said to myself; ‘Akhil, go for it NOW!’. I immediately focused my energy on the pull phase of the swim stroke to propel myself forwards. I could feel the pressure from the water against the palms of my hands and as my hands exited the water, I could feel a small wave of water moving past my thighs. I was in the zone and after the short sprint I looked up to find myself with clear water ahead of me. I had broken away from the group which I could confirm by the splashes of water behind me that I could see from the corner of my eyes. Next target was to catch the swimmers in front of me! This was easier said than done as those ahead of me, were quite far ahead of me! It was therefore a matter of holding my composure until the end of the swim and ensuring I finished strong in preparation for the 90km cycle.
Smiles All Around!

Resource Management!

As I approached the shore of the lake, I could see the marshals preparing themselves to tug me out of the water. It’s a good thing they were there as the exit ramp was fairly steep and I’m sure I would have fallen over!

After getting back onto my feet, I unzipped myself out of my wetsuit and saw my mum waiting for me near my bike. This is where family and friends can make themselves useful. They can position themselves close to your bike so that you don’t end up getting lost whilst searching for your bike! As I swiftly put on my cycling shoes and helmet, my mum shouted my swim time at me. As I mentioned above, my aim was to beat 30 minutes which according to my mum, I had! The message boosted my confidence as I went out on to the bike course.

Maintaining Focus!

With the bike course being flat as a pancake, it was easy to get into your comfort zone and not pedal as hard as required. Since I don’t race with a watch or cycling computer, I can easily fall behind pace. I tend to measure my efforts on how I feel rather than trying to chase numbers. If I feel good, I go hard albeit in a controlled manner. If not, I ease the effort until I feel good again.

With the cycle being the longest part of the race, maintaining focus is of utmost importance. I settled into my pace and kept my composure and reminded myself to go steady. I continuously took a sip of coke from my drink bottle and munched on some flapjack.
Smiles All Around!
The cycle route went through some narrow country lanes and there were sections where cyclists where cycling in both directions. This meant having to be alert and safe in order to not crash into other cyclists riding in the opposite direction. On the other hand, it proved to be a source of motivation as I kept encouraging other cyclists and likewise, other cyclist kept encouraging me. The camaraderie was fantastic throughout which made the 90km cycle seem like a social ride!

Before I knew it, I was approaching the transition area to hop off my bike and get myself on to the run.

Practise makes perfect

I jumped off my bike and ran to where my bike had to be racked. I know the process of Transition 2 as I tend to practise it every Saturday morning during my training sessions. Helmet came off, cycling shoes came off, running shoes were slipped on and off I went. I was pleased by the speed I managed to get in and out of the transition zone and it goes to show how important it is to practise the steps during training sessions.

Almost there, but not quite!

I started strong on the run and as always, I had to give my legs a few minutes to adapt to the biomechanics of running! I quickly settled into my pace and ensured I didn’t go too hard too soon. 21km is a long way to go and pacing is crucial at this stage of the race.
Smiles All Around!
I really enjoyed the run course as the terrain was a combination of tarmac and off-road paths. Just like the bike course, it was also flat! It was a 3 lap course and my strategy was to go steady on the first 2 laps and then go for the kill on the last lap. As expected, I followed my plan for the first lap but pushed too hard on the second lap. The third lap was therefore a question of holding on till the end and wishing for my legs to not give up. I consumed an energy gel on the last lap hoping for a miracle to occur which would rejuvenate my sore legs. It was too late in the day for the energy gel to work its magic and I just had to fight through the pain barrier. I could feel myself slowing down but I knew the finish line was one step closer. I really had to grit my teeth to get to the finish line. I took the final turn on to the home straight where I found my family and friends waiting for me to cheer me on through the finish line.

I grabbed the Gibraltar flag off my dad and walked the last few metres for a photo finish!
Smiles All Around!

The results

As I crossed the line, I honestly didn’t care what my splits were or what my overall finishing time was. I just wanted to lie down and never get up!

After catching my breath I was eager to know what my splits were. I completed the 1.9km swim in 28 minutes, the 90km cycle in 2 hours and 24 minutes and the 21km run in 1 hour and 33 minutes.

Overall finishing time of 4 hours and 29 minutes; finishing in 7th position within my age-group! Not a bad day in the tri office!

What's next? Well, I guess you know the answer!
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