Race Report: Barcelona Challenge Half Iron Man - 16.05.10
by Dee McCarthy
With many club members, particularly quite a few ladies, embarking on their first half iron man event this season, I thought it would be useful to give you an insight into my experience of my first half IM last month in sunny Barcelona. For those seasoned long distance folk among, you may well sneer at my puerile observations but this is written for those new to anything longer than standard distance triathlons. We all have to start somewhere!
It is not often you hear the above words booming over loudspeakers coaxing athletes to leave transition and make their way to the race start line. And so it was I found myself lining up a la playa staring out at some very far away buoys, wishing I had not left my first open water swim of 2010 to the start of my first ever half iron man. However there was no time for lamenting, and if my wetsuit was to get its first airing this year, the pristine blue water of the Mediterranean beat the brown murkiness of Salford Quays any day!
All the age group women were lined up in the same wave right behind the female pros, to be set off just minutes apart. It might have been better not to be positioned so close to them as one of my friends started pointing out how the outline of the some of the pro women's six packs seemed to show through their wetsuits. Although reluctant to admit, I think she was right but I told her it was those fancy Sailfish wetsuits that were playing with her eyes and to focus on the more important issue of trying to spot the second buoy on the expansive swim course.
I wasn't wrong, the water temperature was lovely. It felt great to be amongst the main pack rounding the first buoy. However, that elation quickly waned as I drifted to my usual hang-out area at the back of the swim en route to the second buoy which seemed to be positioned closer to France. All hope of drafting vanished until the male age-groupers came trundling through like a herd of water buffalo, arms and legs flailing wildly. Still I managed to follow a few feet for a good distance and exited the water for the first time ever in a race having enjoyed the swim and found the 1.9km had actually passed quite quickly.
One of the main things I found very different between sprint / standard distance races and the half IM was transition. In all of my pre-race enquiries nobody mentioned about all the ‘bags'. Transition is entirely clean apart from bikes. Everything else goes into either a run bag or a bike bag and we also had what the organisers called a ‘street bag' for our going home clothes, very thoughtful! So straight out of the water up a red carpet, yes a red carpet, nicely placed from the sea to the giant marquee that housed our multitude of ‘bags'.
The bike course for me saw another first for this season. I know you are not supposed to try anything new on race day, but after months of procrastination I ended up buying a new bike the week before the race. The gamble paid off despite realising afterwards that I did most, if not all of the bike course with my brake block rubbing against the front wheel, it still felt like I had gone from a Lada to a Ferrari! Closed roads smoother than a tub of Country Life, an excellently marshalled bike course coupled with stunning scenery stretching out along the Mediterranean course made the distance pass by very quickly. It was also a good test of patience as I had been warned not to go too hard on the bike, 13 miles is still a long run afterwards. Patience and restraint was indeed required as nearly all my buddies went whizzing past me, which made my new bike feel like it was being ridden like a clapped out mountain bike. A very enjoyable bike ride with only a minor hiccup which found me having to get off and relocate my water bottles in the first 5 minutes after flying over a giant speed bump.
The run was baking hot and I loved it. Despite most Irish people, turning into lobsters at the first sign of heat I am the opposite. To quote the lovely Fraser Cartmell after his half IM victory in South Africa in January " . The old long distance adage quickly came through, that if you hammer the bike you will suffer on the run. Although I may have taken it a little too steady on the bike, my geriatric approach paid off and revenge was sweet. Little by little I picked off all the speed merchants on the bike as they slowly crumbled under the mid day sun. Having not run a half marathon distance since January I was I felt I might be a little unprepared. However I think those cross country races over the winter and the Peninne Bridleway certainly helped and I really enjoyed the run. The atmosphere at the finish line was fantastic. All helped by the fact that I had gone to the event with about forty other Irish people from Limerick Triathlon Club, my club in Ireland. With friends and family coming along for the event, we were like a travelling circus and there ended up being more Irish accents at the finish line than Spanish. It was fantastic to be partaking in a race in another country and have people shouting your name encouraging you along the route. Very few out of the group had done a half IM before and everyone did really well with some impressive times recorded.
The free beer at the prize giving ceremony that night went down well amongst the group and we actually had a lot to cheer about. We had one if not two people (except for one guy it was all females) place in almost every age-category from 25 - 29 up to 55 - 59.
It was overall a great learning experience. I would encourage anyone to use the vast longer distance experience we have in the club with people more than willing to share their knowledge. A huge thanks to everyone who I plagued with questions before the race and gave plenty of encouragement, you know who you are!
I was happy with my time of 5:24 and will definitely be doing more races next year at this distance, albeit next time having aired my wetsuit, taken the brake blocks off my wheel and in better health. A nasty illness in the 10 days pre race found me barely able to jog from duty free to my flight 3 days before the race and still on antibiotics with my porridge the morning of the race! There were some things that I did get right on the day though and one is nutrition and fluid intake. It does take some pre race planning and a little thought but vital to get right.
One peril of wisdom I came across which I found useful is from Paula Newby Fraser who held the Hawair Iron man title before Chrissie Wellington came along. While a half IM doesn't necessitate the same degree of soul searching as an Iron Man, there are moments when the mind can wander off the task at hand. According to Ms Newby, you should focus only on what has to be done at that moment. On the swim, for example on the swim, focus should be on technique and good navigation and NOT what pace you are going to do on the bike. On the bike focus should be working on a smooth cadence, pacing and nutrition and NOT how hard the run will be after cycling. On the run focus should be on keeping moving to the finish line and maintaining good technique and NOT how you are going to celebrate at the post race party! This is probably what those seasoned long distance folk among you do anyway but for me it was useful logic, simple and effective.
A wise man once said "Only those who risk going too far can possible find out how far they can go".
Anyone and everyone is capable of doing a half iron man. Who knows it may even make the idea of doing a full iron man seem not so crazy after all!