First Time Ironman Lessons: losing Garmin race watch

Matias raced the Austria Ironman for the fist time.  He had worked with the Physical Edge Ironman team, and was fit and injury free heading into the race. It is a rule in Ironman to never make changes on Race Day.

Matias was nervous at the start of the race. Physical Edge Coach, Fran, was also racing, and able to support Matias. Matias admits he was so nervous he followed everything his experienced coach did.

Against his knowledge and coaching Matias decided to put his Garmin watch  on his wrist before the race started, he had never done this before. Unconsciously, he saw Fran put his watch on his wrist and  did the same.

The swim started and Matias  completed two strokes. On the third stroke a foot kicked his wrist and his watch came off. It sunk to the bottom of the lake.  Matias freaked. His Garmin watch was his speedo for his bike and run. It had alarms set to tell him when to eat during the entire race.

There were 3000 Ironman competitors and the swim was bunched. Matias found the swim tough as swimmers fought for space. It crossed his mind to give up after 800 meters. The loss of his watch and the energy used in the swim was a huge psychological blow.

Fortunately Matias pushed himself to finish the swim. He decided to ride on feeling alone. He went on to finish the race in 12.31 hours. He loved the race. Losing his watch was a psychological blow. Fortunately, he recovered to enjoy every second of it.

Lesson to learn: Never change anything on race day.

Last 1.5 weeks of training before the Etape de tour 2011

The last week of training was a killer. My coach had me train 4 days in the week and a combination of long rides, time trials and medium distance rides in big gears to make my legs work harder. I then travelled to Switzerland to watch the Ironman and have come back to another 2 hour bike session.

I certainly hit my biggest weeks of training on the last two weeks and with cycling there really isn’t such a thing as an easy week. My coach had me ride 2 hours this week to keep my legs going and the day before the race there will be another 1 hour ride. I was tired at the end of last week and still feeling the affects of travelling to Zurich and getting up at 3am for the race preparation and race day.

It was good to get back on the bike with my riding partner yesterday and push hard. My body seemed to forget what pushing hard on the bike felt like.

I still need rest before the race and I have been crabo loading. My appetite has increased significantly with the amount of training I have been doing. I am eating pasta and rice with simple toppings to keep it easy on my digestive system. There will be a pasta pasty the day before the race and I am looking forward to eating well from here on in.

My racing bike is now in transit to France. My riding partner is taking it on the back of his 4×4 vehicle as he has a house in France. I am packing tonight and then off early to get to the airport on time. I have made a list of everything I need to take. It is vitally important to remember my medical certificate otherwise I would not get my race number to ride. I also arranged travel insurance with Snow Card. There are few companies providing full medical cover for bike races.

In the last three weeks I have been having problems with a loud noise coming from my bike when I ride up hill. I had my bike mechanic come to my house twice to sort it out and to change my gearing to a 34 on the front and 28 on the back. He changed the chain and also gave the bike a new pedal bracket. I tested the bike yesterday morning and it was still making a noise so I took it to Sigma sports where my bike mechanic works to have another look.

The noise was not coming from the pedal bracket it was somewhere around the steering column. He chose to lube the entire headset and we thought it was sorted but then I tested it and again the noise was present. This was getting frustrating and I was worried as I was giving my bike over for transportation to France that day.

I was testing the bike and then another Sigma bike mechanic heard the noise. He said it had to be the front wheel axle. He lubed the entire area around the axle including the connection with the front forks. Magic, the noise was gone. It showed me how difficult it can be to judge where noise is coming from on a bike and to lube the bike if it has been in the rain or not been serviced for a long time.

I am relaxed mentally and I am looking forward to the entire experience. I will be with 5000-6000 other riders and having a riding partner makes all the difference as it will be along day. I am expecting to do it in 9-10 hours. The professionals rode stage 9 on the weekend and there were some serious accidents. The wet road can be dangerous on the hairpin turns so braking carefully and slowing down is important.

This is it I am about to do the Etape de tour 2011. It has been tough training as the rides have been so long and I have worked at the same time. I am glad training is over and now I am ready to race. On my website I am posting the entire Act II guidance booklet from my tour company. It contains everything a rider needs to know. On the following blog I am also putting the analysis of the Etape stage by an ex-pro cyclist. I asked him to break the race down as if he was doing it and his insights have been extremely valuable.

I will read over advice from cycle fit, look at the course and then watch the Tour de France to prepare. It is surreal knowing I am about to take on a stage of the current Tour de France.


Race Day and recovery

It is now three days after the ironman. It is nice to be able to sit here and reflect on a perfect day of racing on the 25 July 2010 and I do not have to train and I can eat whatever I want.

The two days before the race had their dramas. I was very relaxed but I had many small tasks to do to prepare for the race and this included training with my coach. There was a considerable amount of travelling to get from my accommodation to the race venue.  Travelling alone can be tiring and I really needed to rest and avoid expending unnecessary energy.

Over the two days it rained heavily and was cold and Fran, my coach, said no training if it continued like this. He wanted to get in a light run at the least and this could be done the day before the race.  The race organisers were confident the weather would be fine and warm for the day. Locals tell me predicting the weather pattern is easier on the Continent than in London.

I tried to change a tire when I arrived into Zurich and I could not get it back on because it was new and very tight around the rim of the wheel. I broke a lever and punctured an inner tube trying to get it back on. I decided I would take it into the bike mechanic on the race site, ironman city. I was also told by the race organisers that I should have easier gearing than I had on my bike so I decided to also buy a new rear cassette for the wheel, 150 swiss francs. I needed a new watch because the jeweller did not seal my current watch properly when replacing the battery and it flooded and malfunctioned. The new watch cost £150 but I needed to find a timex outlet and buy it. I also had to buy air canisters and a gillet for cold weather.

There is a risk of malfunction in racing when putting anything new on the bike the day before the race. I had mechanical issues with changing of the gears once the new rear cassette was put on the bike. The bike mechanic stripped out the new gear cable I had put on and adjusted the section closer to the gear shifter. I went for a test ride and it was not perfect. This left a seed of doubt in my mind for race day and was not good on the mental energy and positivity.

At 4.30pm on the 24 July 2010, the day before the race, I took my bike into transition. I prepared my plastic box of shoes, clothing, chaffing cream etc and covered the bike with a cover for the night. It was the finality of leaving my bike in transition that started me thinking more about the race. I walked around transition and practiced seeing my bike from the exit from the swim and bike legs so I could find my bike again quickly. All was ready and now time to relax for race day.

We went for pasta for dinner and then I was in bed by 10pm. I listened to my hour of visualisation from my mental trainer, Chris Janzen, before falling to sleep 30 minutes later. I had listened to the same personalised recording each night and morning for the two days prior to race day. My entire race day was visualised in my head before it even started.

The visualisation helped me  on race day as I was excited and calm. I could not wait to get started and enjoy the atmosphere, being in the race and finishing. I woke up at 4am, ate breakfast and headed to the race start.

My support crew of 8 friends and my coach wore distinctive Physical Edge clothing and had made placards to get my attention when racing. They were with me at the start of the swim and it was relaxing to know they were around me. Having friends close by really made the day special.

I got into my wetsuit to pumping dance music and an electric atmosphere. The weather was warm and the skies were clear. The water temperature was 22.8 degrees celcius so wetsuits could be worn.

The swim legs started and 2222 competitors took to the water like ants to food. We headed for the first marker and fought for space. It was horrible in the first 600 meters because I could not see the marker, the lake was murky and I could not get a rhythm with the people swimming around me. I was unsure if I was gong in a straight line and in the right direction and this made me feel uneasy. I decided to draft another swimmer and chose one who was constantly looking for the marker. I felt confident he was heading in the right direction so he was guiding me along the race.

The swimmer I was drafting helped me get into a rhythm and at one stage I was relaxed and swimming easily. I lost him going around the marker as every one converged around the marker. I protected myself from getting kicked in the face and stomach and I kicked to get people off my legs. This happened around each marker so I found new swimmers to draft most times.

My cap started to peel off my head during the race for no reason. Occasionally I stopped to push it back on. Felt like a cone head as it slid back up my head but fortunately my goggles stayed on.

Half way around we had to swim to the back of a small island, get out of the water, run across the island and back in again to continue with the swim. There was a “bottle neck” effect swimming to the back of the island and again another fight for space occurred.  Swimmers were pulling at my legs to pull themselves forward and the extra kicking I did made my hamstrings cramp.

The second leg of the swim was longer than the first. Mentally I new the first leg was hard and I had to focus on getting to the end now as it was so uncomfortable with what was happening. There was so far to go and all I did was focus where I was in the moment. The finish of the swim slowly got closer but at the same time so was fatigue. I could feel my arms had strength in them and that gave me confidence I could make it as long as I kept breathing well.

The final stretch to the island again was long. I sited where I was heading but it just never seemed to get any closer. The last 100 meters could not have come faster. All I wanted to do was get out of the water. I eventually made it to the end and jogged to transition ready for the 180km bike leg. The swim took me 1.17.11.

The first leg of bike was  unknown  as I did not know how big the hills were or how long each section of the course would take me. I started the ride with stomach cramps from the intensity of the swim and then coming straight out and drinking electrolyte and eating a piece of power bar.

Fran said to keep the bike in low gear for the first 15 minutes to get comfortable. I also knew the priority on the bike was to keep my legs fresh for the marathon. After 15 minutes I changed gears into the big cogs and started to hit 30km/hour with a cadence of 90. I kept this up until the hills started and ate food and drank every 20 minutes. My watch alarm was set on timer to alert me every 20minutes to keep me on track with hydration and energy.

The hills started and I was still uncomfortable in the stomach. I pushed the bike through the small hills and slowly my bike legs started to kick in. I felt powerful and strong and was overtaking many riders through the hills. I then started the biggest hill called the beast. This took me about 15 to 20 minutes to climb and took a lot of strength from my legs. Immediately after there was a longer, gradual climb lasting another 20 -30 minutes. At the top of this hill I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.

These two hills would be repeated in the second leg of the bike so I made a decision to coast down the hills and keep a steady speed on the flats in preparation for the hills again. I stuck to this plan and the first leg of the bike took me  3.08.33 and the second leg took me 3.23.25. The second leg was slower because I was saving my legs for the hills and then the marathon. An exciting end to the first leg was heartbreak hill. The spectators lined the street like the Tour de France as I climbed the steep hill. It was exhilarating to feel the passion of the crowd and be a rider.

I got off the bike feeling good and mentally prepared myself for the marathon. I never had run a marathon before and I was not a great runner. This was going to be mentally and physically tough.

I had a plan to walk through every aid station to drink and eat properly to avoid hitting the  wall in the later stages of the race. The first two laps my legs were tired but remained strong with split times of  1.06.35 and 1.21.03. I wanted to run each of the 4 laps in about 1 hour but in truth just wanted to finish and I did not look at my time once during the race.

The 3rd and 4th laps were harder as my quadriceps started to fatigue.  Mentally I aimed for the next aid station or next turning point in the run to keep me focussed. In these two laps I was tired of eating power bars and instead started eating crisps and had half an apricot. My stomach ached through most of the run because I had power bars/gels, crisps, electrolyte, water, apricot, and bullion in my stomach all at once. It was uncomfortable but I did not feel dehydrated and I did not hit the wall.

The finishing straight was long but exciting. I was cheering myself along knowing I was going to finish the race. I tried to run faster but after 50 meters my legs started to hurt too much so eased up again.

The finishing shoot was on a raised platform with finishes clock above and barriers on each side holding the crowd about 10 metres apart. I raised my arms in the air and ran the last 30 meters screaming at the top of my voice and high fiving the crowd. I jumped across the finish line with a 360 degree turn and stopped running. It was foreign to allow myself to stop running and I could not believe I had crossed the line and could walk.

I felt great and it was the end to a perfect race day. I went straight to eat and had rice and chicken goulash. I had a silver blanket wrapped around me with my finisher medal and towel around my neck.

Throughout the race my supporters cheered the loudest of everyone. They went to three points of the run course and cheered each lap. The day would be less meaningful without them and I would recommend taking as many friends to an event like this as possible. They were tired from 12.55.45 hours of cheering but they enjoyed the day as much as I did.

I sit here now 3 days later. It has been a gradual recovery as I have walked with less pain each day. Today it still hurts to walk up and down stairs but much less. I am physically beat-up and more prone to infections. I am resting in this fantastic London weather and reflecting on the experience with you.

The race was important to me because of the people that helped me along the way and all my family and friends who have supported and encouraged me. I have met passionate professionals who coach in the sport of triathlon.  It is a sport filled with positive energy and “can do” attitude. Finishing the race was amazing and sharing it with everyone around created the meaning.

What do I take from this race? I have learnt if I want to achieve something set it as a target with dates even if I do not know how I can make it fit into my life. Get a coach who has done it before and take that coach to the event so he is focussed on your success. Surround yourself and pay professionals with the skills needed to get to where I want to go e.g. massage therapists, nutritionists, bike mechanics, pilates instructors, personal trainers, swim coaches etc. Be flexible along the way but also do what it takes to get the small steps achieved. If I have the right people around me my success rate is higher, I learn from their mistakes and I get the accumulated support of them all. The more well wishes and prayers you get the better.

Where to from here? I am going to rest and then pick up cycling as a sport. I have potential to be a good rider, it is less painful on the joints, and I can ride with friends.  I will be specializing in treating triathletes injuries and work with a team of professionals to help improve performance.

Race tips from my Coaches

This is Coach Fran’s advice for the day before however he has got the dates wrong and will not have a full day to prepare for the race so I will go and do the same things but after I arrive into Marazion which is about 2pm

Fran advises:

Go for a short swim (10-15mins) at the time you will start tomorrow if possible in the same place you will start the swim (ask when you register). Later in the afternoon do the same with the bike (no more than 40min) and run (just 20min) With all of them, try some accelerations to pace race, keep it for a few minutes and then easy back.

Swim coach Emiles tips:

Open water swim tips……

1 lubricate wrists, ankles and neck to avoid chaffing and make the wetsuit easier to get off. Do not use Petroleum based lubes as they will rot the fabric of the wetsuit. Better yet get some BODY glide; one of the range even has sunblock built in. Some lubricant on the outside of the sleeves and shins will help the suit come off when you turn it inside out when it comes off.

2 wear everything you plan to race in under your wetsuit; this can include your race number pinned to a top if you are not wearing a race belt. Attempting to put a dry top onto a wet body will prove to be very difficult.

3 have two pairs of goggles ready for race day to help with conditions. A light coloured pair will help if conditions are overcast a dark or tinted pair for bright sunny conditions.

4 bring a spare swim hat. Ideally you will put this cap on first, the your goggles. Finally your race cap (usually provided) will go on last. If during the start things get a little bit rough you are less likely to lose your goggles if you get bumped; the extra cap will stop them coming off even if they are nudged.

5 start cautiously, with a lucky fast start you could gain 30sec but you also run the potential of losing 5mins if you get kicked, elbowed etc

6 check the racecourse, is it better to be on one side of the starting pack than the other? The straightest route to the first buoy might not be advisable if it means swimming direct against a strong current, or bigger waves in a seaswim.

 7 races like Windsor where you swim up stream for the first two thirds of the race it is better to swim in close to the bank and get out of the main current of the river, its not the most direct route but by far the easiest.

8 Bilateral breathing in training will help you on race day: The added gain of being comfortable with this technique is that when certain open water swims dictate only breathing to one side due to

sunny weather or the need to sight the same lake side/river bank/beach in two directions you can switch your breathing pattern without any problems and still utilise all the benefits gained from a better stroke as well having practised it in training.

9 Drafting: If you can find someone of a similar speed you will have an easier swim if you swim close by and  level to their knees (inside their bow wave.) It is not illegal to draft on the swim but be careful not to upset your pacemaker by constantly tapping them if you are too close.

10 Confirm you are doing the right number of laps of the course for your chosen race distance. Elite Triathletes can get it wrong so it’s easily done.

I will be taking a video blog the days before, during and after which you can view on the Youtube site on

Week 24: fitting in with life

This week has been really busy at work and getting in the training means being very organised. I work and then train and then work and then train again. It is not long distances yet however the routine of what I am embarking on is fast becoming a reality.

I knew I had Valentines day coming up this weekend and although training is a top priority I wanted to have sunday off so I did my long bike on the Saturday. To allow me to complete all my weeks training in the first 6 days I did my run and friday cycle training all on Thursday.

Thursday was a long day and I did not get to sleep until 1.30am as I was too awake after completing my bike session so late at night. Today I finished my 3 hour bike. The bike felt good and as I was training alone so I pushed myself faster through the last 3 laps of Richmond.

The problem with going faster on the bike means I must do more laps to complete the 3 hours on the bike. Not sure if going faster is better after all. My legs are feeling good again and I am reluctant to weight train  as it causes injuries each time I push myself hard.

I can see I am losing weight with the increase in training and without adequate sleep my body is starting to suffer. Sleep is getting less and this has to change.

All the bike  kit I have bought for the Ironman is paying off. It feels comfortable and allows my body freedom when I move.

This week my goggles have leaked. When I breathe the water seeps in. The more practice of long swims the sooner I will work out which pair of goggles works for me. My swimming is still not great. and I can not swim to the tempo trainer for longer without getting tired and losing my technique. The frustration kicks in even more when I get to the end of the 20 meter pool and lose my timing as I need to turn so soon. Apparently there is a 50 meter pool in Chiswick I could use so got to check this out on the web.

At the moment I am enjoying motivated about the training. I look forward to the sessions and want to improve. The distances are getting longer and I know the work I put in now is what will make my race day easier.

My friends have confirmed their flights and accommodation in Zürich. It means a lot to me to have them there and  to celebrate the end of the race. It does give me a reason to train hard so I do not let them down and they enjoy my success.

Next week I have a physiotherapy course to attend on the weekend. I plan to do the long ride on Thursday morning and run after the course. There is a fine balancing act to play with work and life and training. I can not afford being flexible in the coming weeks as I need to rest between training sessions now.