Friday, 2 September 2016

Double Ironman Ultra Triathlon Race Report - Bakovci 2016.

Shortly after completing my first Ironman in Austria in 2013, I had already set my heart on doing the double. As I’m not someone who rushes into making hasty decisions, I thought I’d be wise to gain some more experience first.  In 2014, I went to Sweden to race the Ironman again and since then I’ve got completely hooked on ultra running.

The double Ironman wasn’t going to escape this year; I picked a race in Bakovci, Slovenia mainly because the dates suited my other racing commitments. Being in Europe also meant I was able to drive there and also combine it with a family holiday in the area.

My season started in Nov last year, with my first “A” race in May at the Grand Union Canal, a 145-miler ultramarathon. My schedule involved running roughly 4 times a week, biking 3 times a week and swimming 2 to 3 times a week, also complementing my schedule with weight training at home. Winter training went really well; week after week I logged consistent training hours even achieving a cheeky 50 mile personal best in a muddy Thames Path 50 in Feb.

As spring approached my stress levels started to rise fast, we have also been busy having a big extension built at home, the works have been going quite well to be honest, the builders are great but we have had to deal with very difficult and petty neighbours week after week, which has caused our family an enormous amount of stress. To make matters worse, at the beginning of May I went out for a ride and was hit by car head on. Luckily I only suffered some bruising to my ribs and soft tissue damage to my right shoulder, but my beloved Cervelo was a write off.

I put all those problems behind me and was super excited to race the Grand Union Canal at the end of May. I thought I had managed to escape my daughter’s stomach virus that week, but by mile 30 of the GUCR I began vomiting. I managed to go on till mile 50, but after a chat with my wife (who was also now very ill too), I decided the best decision would be to stop rather than cause myself lasting damage. Realistically there was no chance of covering another 95 miles feeling like that and not even being able to keep down water. I spent that night taking turns with my wife hugging the toilet bowl and feeling very sorry for myself. I moved on from the disappointment of the GUCR but was becoming very frustrated as I didn’t have a racing bike yet; the insurance company dealing with the claim really took their time and in the end I opted to purchase a new bike on finance until they settled my claim, thankfully they’ve finally paid up!

With about 8 weeks to go until the double I finally got my new bike to train and get used to before the race. By now I had reduced my running training to 3 times a week as I had a great base from the first six months and started biking 4 to 5 times a week and swimming 3 times per week. Despite the building works and the ongoing issues with the neighbours from hell, I had trained consistently for a number of weeks and by the time I got to Bakovci I was confident I had done enough to race well.

The race - consisting of 20 laps of a loop in the local lake (4.8miles), then 76 laps (224 miles) of the bike course (which as a bonus was closed to normal traffic) and to finish, 56 laps around Bakovci, equalling two marathons (52.4 miles).

Race day finally arrived and it was perfect, sunny but not too hot, the lake looked very inviting and I couldn’t wait to start. My wife tried to close the wetsuit for me several times and each time the zip would split, as she stressed a bit I told myself that the worst that could happen was me having to swim without a wetsuit. Eventually the zip stayed up and we were on our way. I steadily completed each lap in just under 8 minutes, I felt relaxed and knew there wouldn’t be any surprises during the swim other than the wetsuit unzipping! I stopped for a feed at the hour and two hour mark, with my girls meeting me at the pontoon nearby. I slowed down a bit during the last few laps but felt fresh coming out of the water in 2h46.
Bella was amazing supporting me throughout the Double

Feeling fresh after the swim, the hard work was about to start...

Very quickly I was out of T1 and on my bike. I had a plan, first I didn’t want to get too carried away during the bike start, I knew I had the endurance but speed was lacking; I also wanted to have a good run and  if I overcooked on the bike I knew it could turn into a disaster. Because of the distance my plan was to spend 30min at the aero position and 30min sitting up to spare my neck and back from aching too much. It may sound soul destroying to do the same lap over and over but I didn’t find that at all. There was support from the other competitors as we passed one another and I also enjoyed high fiving the local kids at the end of each lap. Every now and then I would see my family (who had kindly set up the boot of the car as an aid station) to swap my water bottle over, or offer me something different to eat and mostly importantly cheer me on as I went past.

I must admit that at times I felt a bit disheartened being lapped by the other athletes on the bike course but I reminded myself that it was a long race and my plan was to save my legs to run well. 

As the evening approached we were asked to have our headlights ready. I was over halfway on the bike now so I took the opportunity for a quick stop to fit the lights, swap my drink bottle and say goodnight to my wife and kids who were off to the apartment for a well-deserved rest. 

As it got darker the local kids disappeared but a few houses were enjoying the nice evening, barbecuing, drinking and cheering us on. The temperature dropped but the advantage of training in the UK was that I didn't feel the need for another layer and pushed on. I could no longer watch the bike power data in the dark and my riding was purely done by feel but I made sure I kept a good cadence and switched from the aero to the upright position as I felt like it.

Three quarters into the bike segment I made another quick stop to swap my drink bottle and had a cup of homemade chicken and vegetable soup with broken bits of potato crisps in it. It went down like a treat and I could now feel the end of the bike fast approaching.
With three laps of the bike to go my bike lights stopped working! Doh, it was so annoying but I made another quick stop and swapped the battery pack. For a race that long I came prepared for any bike issues so had spares of everything-luckily I didn’t need anything other than batteries.

The bike was over in 13h32 and I was looking forward to run, by far my favourite part of any triathlon. My car now became T2. Thomaz, one of the organisers kindly took my bike to the race headquarters and I quickly changed into clean kit and started running in no time. I was still benefiting from the high cadence and the first 4 miles felt very quick at around 9:30min/miles. My body naturally slowed me down after that to 10:30min/mile until mile 15 or so. It was still dark, Bakovci was now asleep from the all the partying they had done the night before and all the competitors were subdued, and maybe out of respect to the residents we kept the noise down. Even though I slowed down to 11min/mile from mile 15 I was really enjoying the run and my confidence started to grow as I kept lapping some of the guys that had been quicker than me on the bike and swim.

The sun came up and it started to get really warm, we made it through the night and I managed to finish the first marathon in around 4h40. I had told my wife to arrive after 9am and started to look forward to seeing their faces again.  Needless to say the second marathon got really tough but lapping the others encouraged me to keep running at whatever pace I could. I also started using simple tricks to distract my brain from the pain I was going through. I remember noticing some of the houses had the exact same window shutters my grandma used to have in her flat and I spent ages thinking about my grandma and my two aunties who lived with her, and how she would tell me off for playing with the shutters. I then started to notice the lovely vegetable gardens some of the locals had and I tried to imagine the taste of the various vegetable and fruit I saw- tomatoes tasted especially great in my imagination. Every now and then I would reward myself with a 50m walk, but it had to be a powerwalk and I tried to do it when no one else was looking.

My family had now arrived and I had around 20 miles to finish. My first request was my running cap and sunglasses. It was so great to see them. My daughter Bella said she wanted to run a lap/mile with me and it was great to talk to her and find out what they had been up to and how my race was going, etc. The miles seemed to pass very quickly with their presence, I wanted to finish quickly and make sure they could start enjoying their holiday soon, as up till now it had been all about me.

Bakovci was now in full party mode with loud dance music being playing and I could now feel the finish within my reach. As it was hot my wife would throw some cold water over my head and it was a great relief, it is amazing how little things make you so happy when you’re suffering. With 5 laps to go I passed the timing mat with Zoran from Croatia and he was one lap behind me, he had a quick chat with the referee and then said to me there had been an issue with his timing chip. I then assumed that we were probably on the same number of laps and a position was at stake. He then upped his pace and I decided to follow him. We followed each other neck on neck for the next four miles averaging around 9min/miles which felt ridiculously fast at that stage of the race and on very tired legs, it was fantastic sportsmanship. To my relief as I passed the timing mat for my last lap Zoran still had two laps left and I could finally enjoy it. Bella joined me for the last lap and I started to get that tightness in my throat and the tears flowing from the corner of my eyes. We had to run the last lap in the opposite direction and I had the opportunity to wish the others well for rest of the race. Katie, my four-year old then joined us for the last 100 metres and we crossed the finish line together in 26h28min38sec, 6th overall with a double marathon time of 10h10. Wow, from dream to reality, I’m now a double Ironman, what a cool title to have and memories I will treasure for a lifetime.

So lucky to have them there with me for the finish!

To my wife’s complete despair I now wish to do the Triple Ironman!

Nutrition – I have now been a metabolically efficient athlete for over 3 years now, meaning that my body excels at burning its own fat stores as fuel.  Nutrition was the easiest part of the double Ironman in Bakovci because I didn’t need to eat much during a race like that and as a result I never suffered from any stomach problems, I never felt low in energy and I didn’t need to constantly remind myself to eat. It is that simple. I don’t know how people claim to eat in excess of 300 calories per hour and not feel sick; do they bring toilet paper with them too? Metabolic Efficiency is a concept developed by Bob Seebohar, whereby you manipulate your daily nutrition in order to maintain blood sugar levels and keep insulin spikes to a minimum, by doing this over a period of time you will adapt your body to be able to use more of its own fat stores and as a result you’ll require less calories during racing and training. Other than being able to use less calories when training and racing I also benefit from better sleep, better insulin levels, improved fasting blood glucose levels, body fat loss, reduced sugar cravings, better concentration levels at work (I drive high speed trains for a living so concentration is paramount) and improved blood lipid profile.

Just out of interest for some of you, I consumed two scoops of Generation UCAN during the swim (160 calories), during the bike I consumed another two scoops of UCAN, one avocado and ham wrap in halves, some ginger beer mixed with water, 2 cashew cookie Nakd bars, 4 jaffa cakes type biscuits, one cup of hot chicken and veg soup with potato crisps broken in it and Coke mixed with water during the last few laps. During the run I consumed 2 jaffa cakes at the start and then I consumed grapes and watermelon and either coke or ginger beer mixed with water, I really didn’t have the stomach for any solids in the heat but I wasn’t worried, there was plenty left in my “tank”.

A big thank you to the organisers, they really did look after us brilliantly, a special thanks to Thomaz, Miran, Alex and Nina for looking after me and my family. Also a big thank you for all the other competitors, lovely racing with you all, great banter and camaraderie throughout the event.

A big thank you to Skechers Performance UK for supplying me with my favourite shoes for the 2016 season. I wore the Skechers Go Run 4 for the double in Bakovci, although I had the Go Ride 4 as a spare but didn’t feel the need to change during the run.
And a MASSIVE thanks to my wife and daughters for being there for me on the day (and a bit) and offering me all your love and support. It was SO special to have you there with me to witness my success. I couldn’t do it without your tolerance and support of the long hours of training involved.

Just one more ‘little’ race for 2016 left and I’m super excited to be travelling to Greece at the end of September to challenge the mighty 250km Spartathlon ultramarathon.