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Time to get Tough - Lanzarote Ironman
Considered to be one of the few Ironman events that still preserves its essence in a sport which is becoming increasingly overcrowded and adulterated, Ironman Lanzarote pays homage to the triathlon in its purest state. Only those who feel and truly love the sport will fall in love with the Island of the Wind.
“Time to get tough”. Few times have I seen such an accurate slogan as that of the 28th edition of the oldest Ironman of Europe. You had to be tough, very tough. The customary island wind blows more strongly than ever, making one of the best races in the world even more epic. You had to be tough, brave, and above all, love this sport very much to enjoy Ironman Lanzarote 2019.
My adventure on Lanzarote began on the 27th of May 2018. The very next day after competing in last year’s edition, I decided to return to the island for two reasons:
1- What I had experienced during my first participation in IM LZ I had never experienced before. The magic of this triathlon cannot be found anywhere else in the world. IM LZ is statistically the Ironman with the most “returners” on the Ironman circuit and this is not due to coincidence, it is truly worth it.
2- Because of “things to do with the races”, that day I was unable to bring about the Ironman that I believed I had in my legs. For this reason and the one above, I decided to return to the volcanoes in 2019.
Following the recommendations made by some colleagues, this year I decided to change trainer and follow the guidelines of Iván Muñoz. He is one of the most famous trainers and has the best track record in the world of Spanish triathlons. It was undoubtedly one of the most influential decisions I have made.
When I changed trainer I also varied my preparation. I did much more running and a little less cycling (but not a lot less). In swimming, we maintain similar volumes but also with different content. Below is some information about the preparation:
A total of 28 weeks of preparation towards the objective. Including three “sub-objective” competitions as tests and/or as part of the training: A half marathon in February (Barcelona) and two half triathlons between March and April (D.O. Terres del Ebre in Tarragona and the International Portocolom Triathlon in Mallorca).
The average weekly round is always between 16 and 19 hours with the exception of a 3-week block between April and May, when we went for around 22-25 hrs.
The weekly volumes were divided into:
Swimming: Between 10.000 and 13.000 m in 3 or 4 sessions. Including a session in open water from April. The longest session was 4000m in the sea.
Cycling: Between 250 and 350 km, divided into 2 short, 1 medium and 1 long sessions, two of these being on a training roller due to daylight. The longest session was 227 km on the Mallorca 312 tourist cycle route.
Running: Between 45 and 60 km divided into 3 weekly sessions + 1 in transition from March, almost always on earth tracks or pavements. In winter, we include a weekly Trail-Running session. The longest session was 27km.
The “toughest” training was a two-day session. Consisting of 227km (Mallorca 312) of cycling on the Saturday and a transition of 45km cycling + 22km of running on the Sunday.
The days before an Ironman are very personal. Each person has different routines before the trials and different ways of coping with their nerves. In my case, I decided to travel to Lanzarote on the Tuesday, well in advance and to have time to resolve any unexpected issues without getting stressed (problems with the bicycle, forgotten kits, etc.). In another way, getting there with time to spare also helps you to acclimatise better and to carry out the activation training “in situ”.
For eating, we divided the week into two blocks. From Sunday to Wednesday we “cleared out” carbohydrates and, on these days, we based our food on proteins, particularly of plant origin and “superfoods” to over-protect our bodies from the deficiencies brought about by such a demanding trial. From Thursday we began the two days of loading with carbs, and eliminated fruit, vegetables, gluten and other more indigestible foods to avoid the dreaded stomach problems.
We spent every day with friends, commenting on issues to do with the race and killing time with many anecdotes and laughter. This went on until Thursday. On Friday (the day before the race) I always attempt to be a little more “on my own”. I “disappear” from social networks and anything else that may in any way distract me from what is really important, and I concentrate on the logistics that the day before an Ironman entails: Preparing materials, handing in the bicycle, preparing food, going over the race guides… Another unusual little habit that I have is going to the barbers. I have done this for all of my Ironman events.
The supper before the Ironman event consisted of: A giant plate of white rice with grilled salmon and a cheesecake for dessert.
The alarm goes off at 4.50 a.m. This is a little bit later than the rest of the IM events, but the logistics in Lanzarote are less complicated than that in other places. In the hours before the event, I continue to seek “solitude”. I breakfast with my friends but I hardly speak or listen. The mobile phone is switched off and will remain so until the evening.
Having barely noticed it, we are in the “chicken coop”. The start of an Ironman is hard to explain. There are some 1700 people with hardly a space between them, but nonetheless, in silence. I have thought well about where I should position myself and I quickly get to my place to await the start. Ten minutes pass which feel more like ten years and finally the blast of the horn is heard. Welcome to the XXVIII Ironman Lanzarote.
In the IMLZ, the swim has just one secret: The first buoy. Being located at just 160m from the start and there not being a “rolling start”, it turns into a bottleneck which can be quite unpleasant. Basically, there are 1700 people trying to head towards a space of 10m.
Being aware of this, my choice was to situate myself in the first starting gate (thanks to having an AWA hat) and start off “like a shot” towards that first buoy. I’m not a good swimmer, but was sure that the 20 metre distance between the AWA and the rest of the competitors at the start, and the short distance (160m) of the route, would be enough for me to find the buoy “clear”. That’s how it was. The plan worked perfectly and only a group of 6 or 7 “super swimmers” reached me and I saved myself from the bottleneck. A little after leaving the famous buoy behind I heard the shouts of triathletes who had become trapped in the “bottleneck”. I thought about how I had escaped from a nasty situation.
The remainder of the swim was just a formality. Having many swimmers behind me who were much better swimmers allowed me to constantly “grab the feet” of people who overtook me. When I realised that I couldn’t go on, I would let go and wait for the next feet. And so on during the two rounds of the circuit. In this way, the swim was over quickly and very calmly. The sea was a little rough due to the strong wind, but at least I didn’t have too many problems with this.
I passed the chip mat with 1hr 05 for some 4000m indicated by the GPS. 4’ faster than in 2018. The swim time in the sea never serves as a reference point, but seeing few people in the tent and many bikes in boxes led me to believe that I had swum well. A pretty good transition and “the party” begin.
Knowing the tough nature of this circuit and, above all, the toughness of the following marathon, I made an in-depth study of how and when to distribute the effort to get to the “T2” as “fresh” as possible. To do this, I believe I played two key factors.
1- A good choice of wheels: Lenticular and profile 40mm. For my characteristics, it was a bit risky to use profile at the front because of the risk of crosswinds. Perhaps someone with a heavier weight could take a little more risk. The back lenticular wheel may seem risky, but it isn’t: There is a lot of uneven ground, but without extremely steep uphill inclines. And as the downhills are fast, the gain compensates for this. Another important factor was the “sail effect” when there is a favourable wind.
2. The distribution of effort. At an Ironman event which is on uneven ground, it is not so much about moving watts, but how and when to move them. Through the Best Bike Split programme, using the data from my half-time score last year, updated with my current Watts test, which we did with Ivan a few weeks before, I got an approximation of the effort that I needed to make in each segment, and I put this on a sticker on my handlebars.
On the Saturday, the wind played a decisive role. It was a lot stronger than the normal high wind on the Island, and this factor changed the strategy a little. On many occasions I struggled more than I had expected, simply in order to move forward, and this proved to be costly as the hours passed.
The IM LZ cyclist circuit is simply magical. The section between Salinas - El Golfo - Timanfaya is the most spectacular 40km I have ever competed in. Crossing Timanfaya, we are greeted by the 6 devils of steel. They say that you have to show these respect. It must be true, because we all passed before them well crouched down. In this way, we overcame one of the “key” points of the Ironman and we made our way with trepidation towards the feared “viewpoints”. But before that, we needed to cross the town of Teguise: An incline of 1 km where all the inhabitants of the town come out to cheer and push us causing many of us to shed a tear or two.
Perhaps, because of this, I committed the only serious error of the Ironman. The “Special Needs” had changed place from where it had been last year. It was situated at the foot of the Haría Viewpoint, while in the previous edition it had been at the top of the viewpoint. I did not have this information in mind and it took me completely by surprise. I entered late and almost skidded off. I became very nervous and took the wrong lane. When I looked for my bag in the wrong lane, obviously I couldn’t find it, and I became even more nervous and started to make things worse by moving bags that didn’t belong to me. This continued until one of the volunteers calmed me down and took me to the right lane. The oversight had cost me 3 minutes and an anxious episode that was quite unnecessary. I took my things from my bag and I skedaddled while hearing to the volunteers laughing. What a disaster.
I quickly composed myself and continued on my course: The Viewpoints. Knowing the lie of the land well helped me in the uphills and downhills, where I managed to cut last year’s time by almost 4’, thereby compensating for the chaos at “Special Needs”. Conquering the viewpoint of Mirador del Río with La Graciosa at your feet is one of the best moments a triathlete can experience.
After successfully passing The Viewpoints, came another Ironman “key” point. The wind had caused difficulties as I had expected and, reaching km 105, I found myself with 7w more than anticipated on the Garmin and an important “disaster” for my legs. With this information, and thinking about the marathon, I decided to “slow it down”. Being aware that in the vast majority of the km that were left there would be a favourable wind, I decided to change my plan. I came down between 5 and 10w from my initial plan and took these 75km as an “active rest”, taking advantage of the time to eat and drink a lot and to “recover” my legs for what was to come. Having the lenticular wheel into a favourable wind helped me greatly and I hardly lost 10 positions despite dropping the intensity by quite a lot.
The plan worked perfectly and I managed to get beyond Conil (km 170) relatively intact. The last 10km are totally downhill and I launched down them with a great desire to finally be free of the bicycle. Reaching the t2 I fixed my gaze on the faces of the other triathletes to work out how to leave the bicycle, and I think I did well to “lighten up” my pace. In reality, the cycling circuit was very tough. I stopped the GPS with 6hr 24min and 217w NP. That is 17w more than in 2018 an improvement of “only” 8’ on last years’ time. Leaving me more than convinced that the wind had clearly been the main factor.
Everyone talks of the cycling circuit at Lanzarote, and with good reason. It is very tough. But I have always thought that little is said about the marathon. If any Ironman event presents a challenge, everything is multiplied here. It is hell with palm trees and cacti, an endless beachside promenade full of “slides” and where the shade is dazzling due to its absence.
The starting line is another very exciting moment. To meet up with your loved ones again after they have been waiting for you over 7 hours in the sun, gives you the biggest dose of energy that one can get when faced with what awaits them. They are here for you. You can’t let them down now. Not today.
The first section to the airport feels endless. I have strong legs and I have to “brake” so as not to overdo it. I am perfectly aware of how I need to go, and above all, how I should NOT go. The three explosions in my three previous Ironman contests are still ringing in my head to remind me how thin the line is between burning out and not burning out. I overtake many people that are real zombies. I am increasingly convinced that “slacking off” on the bike was the right thing to do.
After nailing the planned time at the half marathon (1hr 40) I begin to believe that I can complete a good Ironman. I can now feel the pain in my legs and I have to walk a few metres in some of the provisionings, but I continue to overtake people and still feel that I have it under control. There is no trace of the stomach problems that I had on other occasions, which makes me think that at last I have hit the nail on the head with the nutritional aspects.
And then, all of a sudden, its km 42. The mat with the M. The M once again. But this time with the feeling of having at last achieved the Ironman that I always believed I had in me, but which had never appeared. 3hrs 27mins of marathon, 22’ less than in 2018, I stopped the clock at 11hrs 13’, that is 36’ less than the last edition.
You run these 100m shaking hands, embracing your loved ones, taking the ribbon. How many nights I have spent thinking about this ribbon. Remembering so many things, so many people when, at last, you hear the words that you were waiting for so much: Hey man, you are an IRONMAN!
As for the final classification: 155 out of 1700 participants and 17th in my Age Group (25-29). The “objectives” that I had marked out were to enter into the top 150 and the top 15 but I didn’t reach either of them. Nonetheless, I am not disappointed. On the contrary, I was able to give it all I had and I believe that when this happens, you should always be happy. It was simply that there were people there who had more in them than I did.
I close this chapter on Lanzarote with an enormous amount of satisfaction because of the result and, above all, for all that I experienced. But apart from this, I am left with the journey and all that this means: In the end, to be braver and believe in myself. I believe there will be a before and an end after my fourth Ironman, and I owe this to my trainer, Ivan Muñoz.
Lastly, I want to thank the many people who have helped me on this journey. All this would have been impossible for me to do on my own. A special mention to my family for their unconditional support, many times without understanding me, to all my colleagues at Tradeinn S.L for always adapting to me, to the “Saraobike” cycling group (especially to Oriol Silvestre and Xavi Guell), to my many Mallorcan friends (especially to Victor Picó and Daniel Arrom), to my “Lanzarote family” for everything we have lived through this week , and to all the “family” at the ViWo Hotels Team - M3T for welcoming me as one of the family from day one.
Someone next year? ;)