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Amateur Age Group Triathlete
Amateur Age Group Triathlete

Ironman DNF (Challenge Almere-Amsterdam/ETU LD Champs)

roborobby roborobDec 21st 2014
3 months late with writing this post. Didn't see the value in reporting back on a failed ironman attempt at first, but now the dust has settled, I can reflect back on what went wrong, and what I plan to do to avoid it happening again.

The goal for this race was to shoot for a sub-10, and hope for a decent placing in the age group contest. Training had been going really well, and the taper and mindset in the week leading up to race day was the best I could have hoped for. The one thing that slipped me up on this occasion was breaking one of the most obvious rules in racing, and that was trying out something (with my nutrition) in the race that I hadn't tested in training. I'd been training low carb a lot, which was working out well, and racing middle distance events and doing long training sessions on UCAN SuperStarch mixed with collagen and electrolyte tabs, the latter added just to help the solution mix better. The great thing I found with SuperStarch was that it kept me fuelled perfectly for these sessions without any digestive issues, and it has the added bonus of not switching on my sugar recepters (given it it flavourless with a chalky texture), which for me personally would have me on the hunt for sweet stuff and inevitable overeating and stomach issues/drop in performance.

The first slight punt on the nutrition was to double-concetrate the SuperStarch for the race. I did this so that I could carry all my fuel on my bike, and therefore not have to worry about picking anything up from the special needs area. My plan was to drink the mix like mini-shots, and then chase it down with water from my Speedfil water bottle. This on its own may or may not have been an issue, but it's pretty clear to me the the other new thing I decided to do was clearly the main problem, as in hindsight it was a pretty daft thing to do.

In the lead up to the race, I'd been reading that the body can thrive on a huge amount more caffeine during a race, than it can on a more sedentary day. I decided that I would give my sub-10 plan a helping hand by smashing through caffeine during the race, and thought that not having tested this theory in training would not be an issue given that caffeine works best when you haven't become desensitised to it. The problem was the source of the caffeine, as I thought the best way to get it in my drink solution would be through caffeinated electrolyte tabs seeing as I'd be using them anyway, and given that one did the job, then why not put in five? And seeing as I had a whole pack of them, why not have a couple at breakfast?

I reckon that amount of caffeine would have worked out fine, but the problem was that along with this caffeine came the main ingredient of the tabs: salt. As the race unfolded, I received a sharp lesson in the effects that salt toxicity has on the body...
Race Report:

Swim was fine. Felt very relaxed, and found a good position in the pack where I could get into a rythm and find good feet to follow. Came out just under the hour and feeling good.
Jumped on the bike, and dialled up the wattage to 240 as planned. The headwind was pounding, but using a power meant I wasn't concerned about my actual speed, and just focused on keeping the watts were I wanted them, and staying low over the bars. Every 20mins or so I took a swig of my concoction, and chased it with water. First signs of issues was a pain on one side of my stomach, which was intensified by my knee tapping it around 90 times a minute. About an hour in and I had my first urge to pee, and as I couldn't squeeze it out on the fly like I had recently learnt to, I had to pull over and adopt the more conservative method. The most pathetic dribble of rather dark orange liquid dribbled out, and I knew then that something wasn't right. Resumed riding, but before long the pain increased to a point where I couldn't hold my goal wattage anymore, and instead switched off the power view on my Garmin and instead focused on distance, and wishing away the Ks. Two more failed piss stops, and a limp back to transition in a longer-than-planed 5h21m40.
Ironman DNF (Challenge Almere-Amsterdam/ETU LD Champs)
Back in transition, I took my time getting my running shoes on, and instead focussed on how my stomach felt. At that point I decided to ditch the nutrition plan, and just try and find what would make my stomach feel better. I checked my watch as I left transition, and total race time was showing as exactly 6h30. Great - I thought - just need a 3h30 run and I've got my sub-10. Not thinking straight, I calculated that as being a 4m30s/k average (it's actually just under 4m58), so headed off with that in mind. The first k or so was fine, and the legs felt fresher than I would have expected, but all of a sudden the stomach pains came back, and under the relentless pounding from the running they were far worse than they had been on the bike. I held out as long as I could, but was continually forced to walking pace. When I came to the first drinks station, I stopped for multiple cups of water and a scourer of all the other fuel on offer, trying to work out what might rid me of the stomach cramps and get me back running again. I decided that I needed to keep drinking water to flush out the salt, so had one more cup and moved on.

Another couple of ks of run/walk/run clutching my belly, and I came across a medical tent. The pain was debilitating now, so I took this opportunity to lie down as I explained what I thought I was wrong in the hope they'd be able to fix me. They gave a couple of tablets, and after dropping these with more water, I carried on.

The pain wasn't going away, and I was now starting to panic as I didn't know whether to keep drinking water in an effort to flush out the salt, or not drink and risk dehydration. Although I now know the latter would have been the right option, I did the former which just made me more and more bloated. I stopped by a tree for another attempt to drain my bladder, and this time me pee was the darkest I think I've ever seen it.

The run course was 6 laps of a 7k course, and as I approached the end of the first one, I decided that there was not point in continuing with this misery seeing as I had missed my target time, and when I heard my Wife call to me in the crowd, I stopped, turned around, walked back to her and parted the railings. After finding a quiet spot to ball my eyes out like a little baby for a while and deliberate over whether or not to head back out onto the course, we headed off to the medical tent to find out what was going on inside me, as at that point I was even starting to think I might have appendicitis or something. We stayed in the tent for quite a while, and as I lay on one of the beds under the supervision of the doctors, the pain started to dissipate, and I realised it wasn't as serious as I had thought I might have been. No sooner was I feeling better, were we in the nearest bar and getting tucked into the hard stuff.

After an hour or so, we headed back to the course to cheer on our friends who were still racing. This was the first time that I've spectated an ironman race, and as I watched scores of compeitors who looked to be in a far worse state than I had been, but were continuing to battle on, I realised I had made a mistake in dropping out.
The Aftermath:

Nothing could have prepared me for just how bad I felt after pulling out of that race. My stomach had settled, and I knew that I should have just sat it out on the course and attempted to walk through it to get myself to the finish line, even if it had meant adding a few extra hours to my total time. In focusing on the target time, I had lost sight of the value of a mere finish. I struggled to sleep that night as I deliberated over whether or not to throw in another ironman whilst I had the fitness (Barcelona two weeks later still had entry slots), or whether to focus on the last few short course races of the season as per the original plan. I chose the latter, which I think was a good move.

So what good came from this race? I'm a firm believer that you learn far more from your bad races than you do your good ones, so in a way it was helpful to have this experience this year, given how well the rest of the season had gone. Things I learnt:

- Test everything in training!!
- Time is important, but finishing has to be the bare minimum. I don't plan on dropping out like that again unless something has broken or fallen off.
- Small problems that would stay as small problems in short course racing, can become big problems in ironman. I've realised that more can go wrong, and therefore expect the unexpected.
- It's okay to walk if you have to (I think).
- About 95% of people don't care if it took you 9h59 or 12h59 to swim 3.8k, ride 180 and run a marathon. In fact, about 94% of people are surprised that ironman involves doing these without the clock stopping between each, so for most of my friends and aqqaintences at least, walking it out would have been irrelevant.
- A good swim and bike time are still good swim and bike times, even if the run is not. If you don't do the run, you don't get a finishing time, and therefore the swim and the bike are both completely wasted.
- Pain is temporary; failure lasts a while, a DNF lasts a lot longer.
- Ironman is a bitch, but I still loved every minute of it and can't wait to give it another stab.

Anyway, think I've dragged this post out way more than I needed to. Hopefully the next IM report will be a more positive one!!

Thanks for reading, and please post any comments of your lessons from your bad races, if you have any.

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