Ironman Barcelona 2015 – Mark Harman

IM Barcelona Supporters

I have been there done that and got many T shirts so why was I running into the incredible noise of an Ironman finish line again.  I guess I am an ‘Ironman’.

After my last Ironman race in Austria, which was particularly special as I crossed the line with Teresa in her first Ironman, I had said “never again”.  Teresa had agreed as these are tough races to do and particularly train for.  You have to dedicate a large chunk of your life and money to compete for a medal and a T shirt.  Let’s face it I don’t have the talent to win, maybe if I am as fast at 75 I could get to Kona but it’s not likely.

So there I was content in Ironman retirement, again, when Teresa said she had unfinished business with the race and wanted to do another, not just to finish but to race for a time.  The choice of race was done in our usual style, where do we want to go on holiday?  Ironman had recently taken over the Challenge Barcelona event which I had done in 2011.  This was a nice venue with a fast course and Teresa had just coached a new Ironman there.  She decided this was the race for her, sounds good I thought, I would coach her and support from the track side, but no that was not her plan I was to race and support her aim for a pb.  So out of Ironman retirement again and a year to get us fit for the event.

Well the preparation did not go to plan, Teresa suffered a spinal problem preventing her running distance and was forced to pull out.  I was left with a very expensive race entry and the trip booked so I would race it anyway.  You may think he’s been there, done that and got the T shirts so doing another won’t be hard, well it’s not quite so easy.  These events are way beyond normal and if you don’t prepare properly you may not complete it or at least have a miserable day.

The support of your friends and family are an essential element for both training and the race day.  In the months before the race the world revolves around the event, the long absences from home training, your tiredness, grumpiness, obsessive behaviour and massive appetite.  I am lucky Teresa understands and would struggle to complain about me doing sessions she has actually set.  However this is a vital part of racing Ironman and if you take on such an event without this support you will have a tough time.  As a banner I saw on the run course said ‘If you are still married you didn’t train hard enough’.

The training went pretty much to plan and a preparation event at Ely suggested all was well, so I left for Barcelona apprehensive but knowing I had done all I could.  As we travelled to the venue by train we saw huge waves crashing into the shore, apparently they too had a poor summer and an offshore storm was raging driving the waves.  On arriving at Calella the event was taking shape and the atmosphere building.  The first couple of days were spent registering, building then testing bikes and relaxing best we could.  It was fortunate we had friends also racing, new friends from TriAnglia and old friends from Born2tri, one of whom Teresa was coaching.  This made the event more special being able to share it with others.

The day before the race we had a major storm with winds, rain and high waves it was not going to be a smooth swim.  Once the bikes and kit bags were placed in transition we relaxed with a final meal and early to bed.  Unlike most Ironman races the start was a very civilised 8.45am so we had a bit of a lay in, it did mean the cut off was 15 hours rather than the usual 17, hopefully this would not be a problem.

At first light 2500 racers lined up on the beach, this is a nervous time for all the racers, everyone is concerned about the pain and suffering ahead.  For the Ironman virgins it is a particularly nervous time.  I was waiting quietly and felt a whack to the side of my head as a German athlete was adjusting his wetsuit and hit me.  He looked at me with horror at what he had done, hitting an Ironman!  I just smiled at him and said “don’t worry” he gave a nervous smile back and said “First time?” I replied “No I have been here before, you will be fine, good luck.”  He smiled again and at the sound of the gun we began filing into the sea in the new rolling start format.  Such contacts were being made throughout the swim start it is just part of bringing new athletes into the Ironman family.  As I reached the timing mat I ran into the surf diving into the next wave and I was off.  The waves were not too bad out to the first buoy, sighting was difficult as most of the time you looked up to see a wall of water.  As we passed the 1500m point we turned left out to sea and realised just how big the waves were.  It was almost impossible to sight the buoys, even at the crest of a wave there would be another taller wave ahead so it was a bit of guess work.  The swim back along the shoreline was even worse, the waves pushing the swimmers off course and apparently many missed the last buoy completely.  Eventually we got to the final 300m to shore and body surfed most of the way in, crashing into the beach.  With that done it was into T1.  This was the usual chaos but I changed quickly and was soon riding out of town.  I usually plan on being on the bike about 90 minutes into the race but I was pleased to see I was more than ten minutes ahead of that.  The bike course is made up of two long laps and a third shorter lap.  Much of the course is straight and flat but there are some hills to climb each lap and they seem to get steeper as you progress through the ride.  The Ironman ride is really just a very long lunch, you are either preparing to eat, eating or thinking about when you next eat.  If you don’t eat during the bike you will have a very miserable long walk to the finish line.  Fortunately the wind was not too strong on the exposed coastal sections.  Getting back to town was nice as each lap I saw Teresa and our other supporters to encourage me on, this always gives a lift to your spirits particularly at the low points.  At 90 miles into the bike even getting off and running a marathon sounds like a great idea.  The race briefing focused on the organisers zero tolerance to drafting and how strictly they would enforce the 10m separation.  It was a shame to see massive peletons on the course.  If you were seeking a Kona qualification you would be forced to draft and risk the penalty or give up about 20 minutes to those who were.  I avoided drafting even though it meant slowing down on some sections.  The 112 miles eventually came to an end, I still felt good and was pleased my bike time was under 6 hours, a 19mph average.

Into T2, a full change again and on to the four lap marathon run.  This was not the usual baking hot run I had hoped for, my run hat was soon in the bin and there was no need for the water filled sponges.  I kept eating and drinking as the miles passed by.  The course was flat apart from the odd bridge or underpass but had a few dead turns.  One end of the course was quiet and later in the race a little lonely but the other end was party time with plenty of support.   With two laps, 13 miles complete the race starts to get hard.  The sun was going down and the air cooled but it was a case of keeping going.  Water was replaced by full fat coke and eventually the last lap started.  I knew at that point a personal best time was possible, I had run the whole course and only walked in the aid stations.  Three miles later I took my last drink and started the final run for home.  I felt like I was tearing along but I am sure to a spectator my feet were barely leaving the floor.  Soon I could hear the finish ahead and my pace increased a little more, I crossed the line with an under 5 hour run, 12hrs 16minutes after I entered the sea, my 6th and fastest ever Ironman was done.

The finish area is always an emotional experience as you run from the darkness into the light and incredible noise the commentator says ‘You are an Ironman’ for about the 1000th time that day but you never get tired of hearing it.

A day later and the recovery has started a perfect time to share a celebratory meal with the friends who raced and supported.  This is what the event is all about, a shared ambition, a huge amount of work and preparation, topped with an incredible day you can share with your loved ones and friends.  The Ironman athlete completes the course without outside assistance, but without that vital support of friends and family in the preparation and race day an incredible event just becomes a race.

Ironman is a massive challenge and cannot be taken lightly, I am lucky to have the support of a great coach who gets me to the races as good as I can be but also supports me through the good times and bad as I prepare and race.  Thank you Teresa.

Mark