Lessons from Lanzarote
It’s always been on my bucket list of Ironman races to do, but until this year it has always clashed with my daughter’s birthday. With the stars finally aligning for 2015, it was time to tick this race off and take on what has been regarded as one of the toughest races on the circuit.
I’ve done tough races before. Ironman St George in Utah had the hilliest marathon course I’ve ever experienced. Ironman Wales is relentless in its mixture of terrain. Whilst completing the Enduroman double ironman in 2009 probably says it all. So how tough would Ironman Lanzarote actually be by comparison? Would seventeen previous Ironman races under my belt actually count for anything once I was faced with the heat, winds and mountainous terrain out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?
What I experienced was hard. Of course it was, this is Ironman after all and it’s not supposed to be easy. But as I write these words some five weeks after the event, it is what I learned about myself and this brilliant sport that is perhaps the most revealing.
What I propose to do dear reader is highlight the three key lessons I took away from that weekend in May and in doing so give you a flavour of what this race and the pursuit of all things iron is like.
Lesson # 1 – No plan survives reality!
As I walked past the racking area, past what can only be described as a bike porn emporium, I noticed something. Amongst all the carbon, glistening chrome and stealth-like machinery was a bike with mismatched wheels. On the rear was a deep carbon rimmed wheel just like mine. But on the front was a standard alloy rimmed wheel, the likes of which gets trained on day in day out by many a club rider. “That’s odd,” I thought, “why has the owner forgotten to put a decent wheel on the front?”
It only took the first two miles of the bike course to answer that question. Having put in a decent swim leg, I started the process of getting into a rhythm for the next 112 miles. Although that rhythm never came. Lanzarote is windy at the best of times. But with 20-25mph gusting head and crosswinds I soon realized that this was going to be a long day and not one for a PB. I also answered my question from the day before as I tried to contend with what can only be described as a huge sail for a front wheel. Having a deep carbon rimmed front wheel in crosswinds is not a smart or indeed safe idea. For the next hundred or so miles I was the most scared I’ve ever been on a bike as I was blown across the road and back again. Seriously, I wanted to get off at times it was that bad.
As for the owner of the bike I saw the day before? I’m sure they may have passed many people struggling with their flash carbon with a smug grin on their faces. But even they, like the rest of us would have been toiling just to go anywhere fast on what was the windiest race day for over ten years apparently!
So my lesson here is that fact that no matter how many races you’ve done, there’s always something you don’t know or have never experienced. You can only plan so much. What’s important is that you notice and experience the lessons along the way, deal with them in the moment and hopefully they will serve you well next time.
Swim split: 1hr 8mins
Lesson # 2 – The demons will always appear!
Anyone racing an Ironman will tell you there are always low points in the race. For some it is during the bike. For most, it happens during the marathon run. Everyone faces different demons. Everyone has their own way of dealing with them. Some give into the demons but many, many conquer them. For me Ironman racing is all about conquering the darker side of ourselves and emerging victorious.
But here’s what I can’t quite figure out. After eighteen iron distance races, why is it that I can predict the dark moments will happen, but every time during the race they always creep up and surprise me? It’s not like I’ve never experienced the low points before. I know they’ll happen. I can even predict with some certainty that it will be during the second half of the run. But still, like a goldfish, I seem to forget all that and find myself in a pit of despair and loathing every time I race!
The times and examples are too numerous to recall and to be honest, once they are passed they are hard to remember. What I do know is this. Every time I experience a low point in an Ironman race, it is all consuming and very, very precarious. Each bout is a fine line between going on or giving up.
But here’s the funny thing. Each time, there is something inside of me that manages to conquer the darkness. But each time that darkness is different. It’s almost like once you find the antidote to cure one example of self-doubt, the next race finds a new way to consume you; and so the whole business of finding a way out of the clouds begins again.
So Lanzarote reminded me that the most important thing is not to avoid the demons, but to recognize that they will appear. The trick is to become aware that it is happening at the time and to get quicker each time in emerging the other side. Staying present and focusing on what you can control seems to be the quickest way out by the way
Bike split: 7hrs 8mins
Lesson # 3 – Remember to take in the view!
Lanzarote for the most part is barren and featureless; it’s like cycling on the moon at times. Nothing but rocks, lava fields and not a person to be seen for miles. Okay, I can’t say for sure the moon’s like that, but you get my meaning!
It’s hot. It’s hilly. It’s windy. But there is one section, only about 500m long that simply takes your breath away. It’s almost as if the whole 112 mile course was designed to give you a brief glimpse of something magical and awe inspiring. That point was a feature at the very north of the island (the bike course is literally one loop of Lanzarote!). As I was grinding up the mountain cursing the island and muttering all manner of obscenities under my breath, I looked up and was literally speechless. The view was amazing. A view out into the Atlantic Ocean with the most stunning palette of crystal clear blues, purples and green. A view that reminds you of the wonder of this troubled planet and confirms that you are lucky to be alive.
Did the view make the bike ride any easier? No. Did it last very long? Not at all. But what it did do was remind me of how lucky we are to be able to compete in these races and that no matter how hard they are, how tired we become, there is always something to be thankful for.
Sometimes we forget that during all the hours of training, the analysis of data and how to fit the next session in, we volunteer to do these things and at their heart, they are to be enjoyed and celebrated. It might sound a little clichéd, but the real enjoyment is in the journey and not the destination. Yes it’s great to get to the finish line, soak up the admiration of our friends and tick off another race. But really it’s about reminding ourselves that sometimes it’s worth looking up and taking in your surroundings – no matter how tough or tiring the course may be.
Run split: 4hrs 23mins
Race time: 12hrs 51mins.