Catch me if you Cam, Ironman South Africa edition
Wowsers, what a start to 2017 I've had!! While my Ironman South Africa on the weekend is the main purpose of this blog, I just need to fill you in on a little bit of the background behind how I even lined up on the start line in Port Elizabeth. I'll try and keep it as brief as possible but if you've read my blog before you know that that's something a find difficult so this may be a long one! Also as I'm currently on a flight from Zurich to Tenerife I've got 3hrs to kill and the blog is how I'm going to do it! So here we go!
As 2016 drew to a close i was staring down the barrel of failing to do anything befitting of the athlete I feel I am. In September I gave myself one final chance for salvation. A torn calf muscle meant I was unable to run for a couple of months but I could swim and bike so I decided to go to ironman arizona and at least put 2 1/3's of a race together to see if there really was any point in me continuing on this ironman journey. I worked my ass off in those two disciplines and focused extremely hard on the rehab for my calf. I'd also worked alot on my nutrition so couldn't wait to see where I was at with 3 of the 4 disciplines that make up an ironman. When my backs to the wall and I need to do something I tend to be able to deliver. Fortunately on that November day in Tempe Arizona I showed myself and a few others I was hoping to impress that perhaps I do have a future in this sport after all.
My swim went fantastic and for the first time in a pro race I excited the water in the front pack. There where a couple of super swimmers off the front but once one the bike I had them behind me within 10km and in another first, I was leading the pro field in an ironman! Once in the lead I worked on executing an ironman bike split. I didn't want to kid myself and just go flat out as one day I needed to learn to run! So instead I just rolled along at 140-150 heart rate focusing on my drinking and eating and 4hrs and 5minutes later I was into T2 feeling sensational!! I honestly hadn't planned to be leading and at this point figured my race was over as I hadn't run a stride for almost 3months but leading a race and with all eyes on you in an empty transition area I realized I had to at least try and run, at least till I was out of sight. So I pulled on the Mizuno's, lucky I packed them, and Fallon informed me I had a 3 minute lead which was a relief to here as I knew I'd be run down pretty quickly! I settled into a rhythm that I felt like I could just roll along at for hours on end and preyed my calf didn't give way. It wasn't long before the pros started flying past me be I was actually enjoying the feeling if being able to jog lightly. 3hrs and 27minutes later I crossed the line in 14th place in a total time of 8hrs 27. I couldn't believe it, I was feeling great as my run was honestly nothing more than a social stroll yet I'd don't my best ever ironman. Sure a lightning fast bike course is what made it that way but still I got enough out of that race to know that if I really apply myself to this sport and learn to run perhaps I could be competitive. I was later informed that my swim bike time was a handful of minutes under 5hrs, something I'm told hasn't been done by too many guys. While I'm in no way comparing myself to the likes of Jan Frodeno who smashed the world record earlier in the year, the basic fact of the matter was if I can learn to run I may be competitive in this sport after all. The big question however still lingers today, can I learn to run and if so how quickly can I ultimately gallop along at.
I mentioned in there than there where a couple of people who's attention kwashiorkor trying to get with such a performance. Well there was only one persons attention to be honest, Tim Kerrison. Tim is the mastermind mind behind Team Sky's dominance at le tour de France and before that had a similar roll in rowing world championship success and Olympic gold medals in the pool. I figured as I've come from two of those back grounds and need help with the other, he was perhaps the perfect man to guide me as I make the commitment to the sport of ironman. We exchanged a few emails toward the end of 2016 and while nothing was certain I hung onto a faint hope that he maby just maby will decide add me to his stable and give it a go.
As fallon and I lay in bed reading at around 10pm on a Mid January evening the phone call I'd been dreaming of receiving finally arrived! It was Tim!! We exchanged pleasantries and he quickly cut to the chase, "chris has lost his training partner here on the gold coast and Richie tells us your a good man train with out on the bike, would you like to come and keep him company for 10 days?" my response was obviously quick and decisive "absolutely" I replied. We chatted a bit more about what we would be doing then at the end of the call I heard the words I really wanted to here "oh and while your here we can have a chat about the iron mans, I've got some ideas on that aswell". Wow, I couldn't believe my ears and promptly woke my dad up to let him know and James tomkins who's for so long been immensely supportive of what I'm doing. I somehow someway managed to get whacked in the face with the lucky stick yet again and was now off to train with the current TDF champ!!
The training camp was as you would expect quite challenging. While I won't go into any specifics I will say it's the first time since my time at the AIS as a rower that's I've truly appreciated the concept of sleep, eat, train, eat, recover,eat, sleep and repeat. Days off I was in charge of entertainment as I had some buddies who live on the coast so took froomie wake surfing with Will davidson and wake boarding world champ Harkey Clifford. Like everything else he does chris quickly figured it out and seemed like a natural. He even got a taste of my medicine on a training front when tim took us on a 21km trail run after a 5hr ride. We stopped along the way but we literally ran a half marathon, not surprising was the first time froomie had run since the Mont Vontout in le tour this past July! As the camp drew to a close and chris headed off to Melbourne for the Suntour to kick start his season, tim started to put in place my training for the ironman. He introduced me to Denis Cottrell whom is obviously the man when it comes to endurance freestyle and from there built up a program to prepare for our first season objective, IM South Africa.
Fallon and I relocated to the gold coast off and on through out february and March so as I could swim with Denis's squad. While the run was still far and away my Achilles heel the swim is equally as crucial as while you can't win the race in the swim you most certainly can lose it so ensuring I can be toward the front there was the first port of call. Post Arizona I'd continued my rehab on my calf with some short runs so now I was also able to start running again. Again this wasn't a huge focus from an intensity or volume point of view we simply worked on efficiency. The bike for now also had to take a back seat as it was just fine and something we can re visit later on when the other two disciplines improve. For now really it was all about swimming and I couldn't have been in a better environment. Denis also had Sun Yang, the 1500m world record holder from china training with his group and along with the rest of the lads who'd lap me on average every 300m's made me feel right at home and not at all like the slug that I was clogging up a lane! The training went perfectly and after a half ironman test event in Coles bay in early march where I went 3hrs 52minutes which was a personal best by 13minutes over that distance, I was on track for IM south africa. Another significant change was moving away from the cannondale family. This was simply my decision as I wanted Tim and I to be free to use whatever we felt was best for me to do well at any particular race. Its the first time in 15years I haven't been in some way associated with any sponsors. Roka and ceramic speed are kind of the exception in that they give me they awesome equipment to use but in all honesty i was prepared to buy it but they insisted on giving it me. It really gives me piece of mind to know that I've got best possible equipment I believe is available and eliminates the possibility of blaming my tools, it's all down to me! With that I have to make a special mention to stuy saunders and sherriden and terri moore who allowed me to treat storm cycles on the gold coast like my garage and built everything up absolutely flawlessly! Anyways With the amount of training going on time flys by and before I knew it I was on the plane finally for south Africa chomping at the bit to get the race underway. I arrived a couple of days early to scope out the course and get the lay of the land and woke up feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed at 4am race morning thanks to the favorable jet lag coming from australia!
At 6:25am on Sunday I elbowed my way onto the start line beside Frederick Van lierd. I'd identified Freddy as the man I wanted to follow and a previous Kona winner, IM south Africa winner and consistent front pack swimmer. My tactic for the swim was pretty simple, if possible get the lead in that first 100m and make the fast guys swim over the top of me that way making it easier for me to get on there feet. I got a perfect start and was first off the beach into the water, I had a good body length on Freddy and after 200m I eased a little to let him past. From there for the next 3600m he guided me perfectly around the swim course and I exited the water right where I wanted to be in the front pack. I had a smooth transition and as I'd done for the swim I followed freddy all the way to our bikes and out of transition. Once my feet hit those pedals I felt awesome. The taper we had planned worked perfectly and it felt effortless pedaling along on my super bike. A couple of quick swimmers had exited the water a minute ahead of us but by 15km I was in the the lead, everything was going perfectly.
Once on the lead I really relaxed and settled into the days work ahead. I got my heart rate nicely under control which had been up a little with all the adrenaline involved in a hectic professional ironman start. I've never felt better on the bike kept holding myself back which is what you need to do in such an event in those early stages. I simply couldn't believe how effortlessly I was riding away from the field, seemed to good to be true!! At the halfway turn around I was right where I wanted to be, heart rate was in the mid 140's and I'd eaten my prescribed nutrition thus far. I had 4minutes to Ben, and nils and as the big group id seen them with 40kms earlier had completely exploded I know everyone was working hard, perfect! I grabbed my special needs bag and that's when things started to unravel. My hydration system hold 1.4L and I wasn't even able to empty one 700mill drink bottle into it before it was full again!! Uh oh, feeling so good I'd made the same mistake as cairns and forgotten to drink again and as I'd been loading up on sugars I knew what was coming, a massive sugar crash as my stomach struggles to deal with all that sugar. My heart rate began to rise and dropping the power did little to change it. I spent the next 60km in damage control getting down as much fluid as possible in an attempt to get myself back together for the run. My power dropped from 320-250 during that period as I bled time to ben and nils determined to hunt me down. Fortunately for me about 20km from transition my body resumed to normal, power came back, heart rate settled and all was good again. I entered T2 in the lead all be it very slight, I'd lost 2minutes to the charging Hoffman and Fromhold on that disastrous second lap but that was of little relevance now, I simply had to run my marathon and what would be would be.
Once on the run I felt pretty good. One positive of going through that difficult moment on the bike is you feel better and better as you come out of that. Ben and nils blew past me like I was a standing still after only a few km's so I knew i wouldn't see them again. We had a simple plan for the run as I'd never gone quicker than 3hrs 27min, take the first 30km as easy as possible and then suffer in the last 12km! My target for the marathon was 4:30km pace, slow I know but you have to learn to walk before you can run! I settled into that and as I slipped back down the leader board I became more and more relaxed at that pace. Once out of the top 10 I decided to walk a few aid stations on that 3rd lap just to ensure I don't put myself in a whole and don't finish the race on my knees, I was only racing myself at this point. Into the last lap and I felt fantastic, my pace dropped to 4:15's and I felt so comfortable. I was having an absolute ball out there and didn't want the run to end, just how you want to finish a day like I'd had! I hadn't taken notice of my rivals assuming the pace they past me at they where long gone and with everyone on course it was hard to pick people out. It turns out I was running down the few guys ahead of me which I'm really excited about to know for the future, you can do a lot of damage in those final 10km if you have the legs. I crossed the line in 11th place in a time of 8hrs 25min, another PB for the full distance and a 3:11 run split, 4:31 per km average, basically bang on target.
So all in all it was a great day for me. I had the best swim and run I could have hoped for and a disastrous bike leg. I know I'm capable of riding a bike pretty well so take a lot of confidence into my future races knowing when that clicks aswell I can be even more competitive. I'll need to be harder on myself with hydration but although that really wrecked any hopes of a good result I was pleased I was able to identify the problem and rectify it during the race and still do my best ever run, I have to be content with that for this time around. For the past couple of days I've been playing Terry tourist and getting to know the locals in Port Elizabeth, humans and animals alike. Having elephants basically step over your Toyota corolla is an experience I won't forget anytime soon. The locals also are just the most hospitable people and I really encourage anyone and everyone to check out the area, I'll certainly be in the future.
So time to move on and I've now landed in Tenerife where I'll meet up with Tim and a few of the guys for some rides including froomie for a little training camp. IM south Africa was just the beginning of this journey I've been searching for my entire sporting life. I'm so motivated by what lies ahead and will do a much better job and keeping all you my blog readers up to date!
T1: 2min 17sec
Heart rate ave: 153bpm
T2: 2min 6sec
Heart rate ave: 152bpm