Ironman Lanzarote 2019 – Race Day

Three days after the race we’re sat on the plane flying home. Right then, lets write a blog. This is what came to mind.

I needed to write a bit more than that, so here goes…starting with Friday (the day before the race). My pre-race blog can be found here.

After taking the bike and transition bags (bike shoes in one, run shoes in another) down to the ‘race village’ on Friday afternoon it was back to the apartment to relax and drink something (non-alcoholic for a change).

The alarm was set for 4:15am and in a dazed state the kettle went on closely followed by consumption of a tin of rice pudding.  The P20 suncream was applied along with the pirate top and some brand new shorts – this was their first outing today after cutting the label off a few days ago –  and then at 4:50am Allen and myself headed down to transition to put our drinks bottles onto the bikes and squeeze our tyres!  They were squeezed – there were no issues so we quickly hurried away.

After a lot of confusion over where to deposit our bike ‘special needs’ bag (consisting of a spare inner tube and a gas cannister) it was back to the apartment to relax for a bit. Where we are staying (the same place as we did in 2013) is superb. We’re a six or seven minute walk from transition so it’s brilliant – I was able to come back to the room, have a drink, get myself down to race weight (yes, exactly what you’re thinking) and then put my wetsuit on up to my waist.  A little after 6am we all (us men and our lovely wives who support us) headed down to the beach.

Bike transition – 5:18am

I’ve been really relaxed coming into today – I knew I was up for a tough old day, it was windy (again!) and I was nowhere near my best form – I just wanted to enjoy the day and get myself to the finish line in one piece.

After dropping off our post race bags (basically something dry and warm to wear after the finish) we strolled to the beach. A fellow pirate (Carl) followed us as he required a little extra assistance to get into his wetsuit as it seemed to have shrunk over the past decade. Once we were suited up the three of us (Carl, Allen and myself) had a little splash in the sea. There were lots of boats and kayaks on the water and the sun was slowly starting to appear (sunrise is pretty much bang on 7am – the race start time).  We then strolled back into the starting area. We weren’t allowed in the professional starting area at the front, or the ‘I’ve spent the most money on Ironman races this year’ section (called ‘All World Athletes’) but had to stand with the regular folk further back. I positioned myself in the 1 hour 10 minute section – thinking that would be the best I’d ever be able to manage – 1:15 would be a great time for me considering my training.

I think Allen must have been standing in a hole in the sand as I’m not ‘that’ much taller than him

Sharon was stood close by and we chatted, took a couple of photos and I had yet another wee in my wetsuit.  Before long everyone was clapping (not exactly sure why but it was emotional) and then we had about ten seconds warning before the start.  When the gun went Sharon wished me luck and I headed to the water. It took about 40 seconds or so to get to the waters edge.

I dislike fighting. Especially underwater swim fighting. Ironman swims are brilliant though if you love that kind of thing. I don’t. I swam wide. Not quite as wide as going to the next island (Fuerteventura) but pretty wide.

Heading to the first mark (at the top left of the photo)

The swim to the first mark was pretty good – I was relaxed and had space to swim.

This changed near the mark. When the first mark in a mass start swim is 160m from the beach (that’s what the swim map says) it was busy, really busy. Arms, legs, more arms and legs. Too many for the amount of water that we were in. You just have to get on with it and know that a good steady swim rhythm isn’t going to work. You’re being knocked about a bit for a few seconds. Then it stops. Then it starts again. It is not fun at all. All you can see is bubbles, arms, feet and black neoprene.

A few seconds later I felt something I’ve never felt before. The feeling when your GPS watch gets knocked off of your wrist and sinks to the bottom of the deep, dark Atlantic Ocean! I felt it go. I’ve worn this watch for about eight Ironmans and never had a problem – but now I had to say goodbye to it – a burial at sea. I was annoyed but you just have to deal with it. I don’t need a watch for the swim, I have a bike computer on my bike and I’m sure I’d be able to borrow Sharon’s running watch for the marathon – just to help a little with pacing. It wasn’t a setback – in fact it would make me more streamlined in the water. Gotta be a good thing.

Lap one done, one more to go.

At the end of the first lap you swim to the shore and then run on the beach for about 30-40 metres, and then it’s back in for a second lap.  Both laps at 1.2 miles long. As I came out of the water I saw the large timing clock – it was 34 minutes something. Blimey – I’ll take that. I swam nowhere near the direct line and take off 40 seconds or so for getting to the start and that’s a great swim for me (considering the training). This put me in a good mood for the second lap – I’d plan to swim a more direct course (as the field is separated much more). I thought I’d be able to do another lap of around the same speed. Bring it on. The only thing not in my favour is that it’s by far the longest I’ve swum since Kona in 2015. I’m sure I’ll be fine…

I was. I was very relieved to get to the end of the swim and was looking forward to seeing the clock. When I did it said one hour, nine minutes and something. So I didn’t get quicker but managed to stay pretty consistent. I was chuffed to bits with this.

I ran up the beach, unzipped my wetsuit, saw Sharon and politely asked “may I borrow your watch later this afternoon” and then headed to the transition area.

I picked my bike bag off of the rack and headed into an extremely busy changing tent/marquee. At the entrance about 10 people were trying to rinse their very sandy feet in a single bucket of water. I was able to get a quick dunk (the bucket fills with sand and empties with water over time – it was half and half I think when I got there).

Bike bags in transition one – waiting for the arrival of the swimmers

I jogged to the far end to find some space and emptied my bag onto the floor. I poured some water that I had in a small bottle in my bag (this was a tip that someone posted on Facebook a few days before the race – thank you) on my feet to wash the sand off (there is so much sand on this beach) and put my socks and bike shoes on – after finding my bike lock stuffed in the end of my shoe – I won’t be needing that today! You then run to your bike, collect it and then join a stupidly long procession at walking pace of people and bikes heading up from the beach area (it’s all matted, but still pretty sandy) up to the main road. This probably took a minute or two and was frustrating. The same kind of bottleneck happened in Ironman France a few years ago but coming up some steps from the swim to transition. Anyway…

Onto the bike – the weather was cloudy and breezy. You start off on the seafront road and then start to head inland. After about a mile and a half the first climb begins. This climb is for around seven and a half miles at an average of 2.8%. The road was very busy with cyclists, and less than I expected were hammering past me during this early part – maybe they’d all heard the advice to pace the first climb. I took it steady and easy-ish. 112 miles is a stupidly long way and I didn’t want to destroy myself so soon. So I took it steady. As I did with every other climb.

Now when I said breezy above – I meant to say bloody windy. If I was at home I would not be on my bike. I’d be out windsurfing. It’d be awesome. Instead I was riding through lava fields on my bike with 1500+ other people. It was the next best thing.

After the first big climb we had a bit of descending and it was terrifying. A howling wind and a time trial bike going at 35-40mph where the front wheel twitches in the gusts is scary stuff.  This was pretty much the experience I had during most of the ride that wasn’t uphill and into a headwind.

I said in my pre-race blog that it was windy on Wednesday of race week. Today I think it was a tiny bit less windy but almost as frightening at times. You cannot stay near the edge of the road as you can easily be blown six feet sideways by a gust. Overtaking people (and people overtaking you) was hard work as people are near the middle of the road.

Someone came past me on a hill about half way through the ride and said “Just remember there are only eight hills on this ride. They’re just quite big!”

The clouds had pretty much disappeared by this point and the reliable Lanzarote sun and blue skies were in full effect. Assisted with a bugger of a breeze.

My plan to day was to just be steady throughout. No fighting up hills, just steady riding and be happy if many people go past me. Downhills I should be able to hold my own as I’m slightly more ‘padded’ than many of the other people on the course (I’m about 13.5 stone) and that helps when going downhill. I also know the course fairly well having ridden it years ago (the course did change slightly in 2018 but much of it is the same) and also having ridden 30 miles of it earlier this week.

About 50 miles into the ride you head up through the town of Teguise.  It’s uphill through the town heading north and I wanted to keep an eye out for my friend Benn who owns a restaurant in town (Cantina Teguise) and loves to support the Ironman.  As I rode past his place he ran out into the road beside me and shouted words of encouragement. He ran alongside for about 20-30 seconds. It was awesome. The crowd support here was good (it’s very quiet for most of the ride) and seeing Benn was great – it turned out he drove to three separate points on the course to cheer me on but missed me each time due to the online tracker not being as accurate as hoped. Thanks for the effort Benn, sorry it didn’t work out. Out of Teguise and you continue climbing, and then climb some more.

I remember seeing a big strip of what looked like Sellotape on the road at one point. I said to myself “I must avoid it” – which meant please ride directly over the top of it and let it stick to the front wheel. Click, click, click, click, click, click, click with every revolution. After about 30 seconds of this I’d had enough so quickly stopped and removed it.

I didn’t stop at any other points during the ride. I had a good few wees during the ride. I didn’t stop. My bike smells. This is Ironman.

During the climbs near the top of the island I was overtaken by Jon (a ‘pirate’) and Guy (not a pirate but a good friend from our days living in south-west London). I actually had a good lot of place alternating with Jon and myself for about 25 miles of the bike. He’d overtake me on a hill and I’d normally get past him on a downhill. My choice of 12-30 gearing at the back and 53/39 at the front was a perfect choice.

Approaching Mirador del Rio

Once you reach the northernmost part of the course at Mirador del Rio it was time for the superb descent – but this time with a tail-wind. It wasn’t as scary as it was earlier in the week but damn close. One slight mishap, puncture, whatever and if you come off of your bike you’re screwed. You’d think a motorbike riding at that speed without wearing full leathers would be an idiot and here we are doing the same only in lycra – my brand new shorts. You just need to remove those thoughts and pedal, and tuck in, and terrify yourself.

Following the descent and a fast section along the main LZ-1 road you then turn back towards and up to Teguise, closely followed by an out and back towards Famara. It felt like it went on forever. It was downhill and into a headwind. Thankfully when I turned round at the bottom the wind was in a more favourable direction heading back up. It took about the same amount to time to ride downhill for four miles into a headwind as it did riding back up it (with a tailwind). It just felt so much easier coming back. You then get to a big roundabout and then turn right headed for home – there are about 18 miles remaining from here. We mostly had a tailwind and I felt pretty good. I was flying along, it was lovely. I kept the power up and drifted past a few riders.

You go up a couple more smaller climbs and then find yourself pretty high up and looking down over Puerto Del Carmen – knowing that the ride is nearly over and with a significant descent to get you down to the main road just above town. This downhill is called the ‘Donkey Track’.  It’s not a great surface, it’s a single width road about two miles long and full of twists and turns. But it’s awesome. I remembered from 2013 I could really push down it and that I did – overtaking a handful of people when it was safe to do so (which wasn’t very often!). It was still windy which made it a bit hairy but it was so much fun.

We headed back into town the same way we started the ride and there were quite a few runners out doing their marathon. As I headed past pirate central at ‘Ruta 66’ (a local bar on the sea front) I got a huge cheer (first pirate back from the bike) and headed past Sharon and Kirstee who were over the other side of the road.

First ‘pirate’ back from the bike – now just 26.2 miles ahead of me

I headed to the bike dismount line. Job done. An Ironman ride is approximately 112 miles. My bike computer (and that of a few other people I know who were here) said over 113 miles. Cruel race organising people making us ride extra! But then a 1% difference according to my semi-accurate GPS isn’t bad at all. I was just glad to finish safely.

Shoes undone and hands on the brakes as I approach the bike dismount line

Nutrition on the bike was energy gels. Lots of them. I had one at the start and then every 20 minutes. I think I had about 18 gels on the bike. Eww! All vanilla flavoured. I also started with a couple of bottles of vanilla flavoured drink and refilled with whatever sports drink they offered – some electric blue coloured stuff during the first half and then something paler later on. I took a few sips of water as well and also used water to unstick my hands and fingers from the gels – that seemed to be more like superglue when contact is made with skin.

My ride time was 6 hours 44 minutes and 8 seconds.  This is safely in my top 10 longest ever bike rides. For the number geeks I rode at 2.44 W/kg with an IF of 0.68, VI of 1.06 and average heart rate 137 bpm.  Comparing this to 2013, where the course was slightly shorter (and different) I rode then 6:03:42, 2.72 W/kg, IF 0.73, VI 1.05 and 143 bpm.  If I had better bike fitness (it wasn’t *that* bad) I could have pushed harder.

I jumped off of the bike and pushed it down a slope towards the beach and then into the transition area. You then pass your bike to a volunteer and then go get your running gear and head into a changing tent. A fresh pair of socks, running shoes and a visor was the order of the day. A volunteer put some suncream on my shoulders, I grabbed my running number (you have a number attached to your bike and helmet on the ride but have to show a number during the run) and headed out and up onto the promenade. It was hot. It normally is at 3pm on a sunny day in Lanzarote.

Putting on my (err, Sharon’s) watch

Within less than a minute I’d got to where Sharon was who passed me her running watch – all switched on, charged up, fresh and ready for a marathon! Which was more than can be said for me.

My plan was to aim for about a four hour marathon (whether this is possible off of two 12 mile training runs I wasn’t so sure – but you’ve got to be ambitious at times). This meant running at nine minutes per mile. This is where the watched helped me settle into a pace. I also planned to roughly keep a check on time so that I knew when I should be having energy gels – yes, more of them. The plan was to try and have one approximately every 30 minutes. I took a couple out on the run with me (from my run transition bag) and the rest I’d take from the aid stations – whatever was on offer.

I’m good with food on the bike/run. I can pretty much deal with anything they throw at me. Apart from liquorice flavoured energy gels. Really – who the hell thought of them! Thankfully my plan was to always have a gel or two on me and as I approach an aid station I’d have a gel then quickly wash it back with the water that is offered. The liquorice required extra water. When you stick your hand out and accept a gel from a volunteer you don’t be picky – you graciously accept what’s on offer – which ultimately meant I had two liquorice gels during the marathon.

The run is slightly undulating and three laps. The first is an out and back totalling about 13 miles and then two shorter 6.5 mile loops.  It’s practically the same route as in 2013. The far part of the first longer loop was miserable – you run alongside the airport – and airport runways are really bloody long. It was tough. It was breezy, fully exposed (you run along the seafront for pretty much the entire marathon) and for about half of the first loop (about 6 miles) it just drags on and on with very little support. It’s just you, your thoughts and the blazing sun.

It’s a little like the ‘Queen K’ part of the marathon in Hawaii (did I ever mention I’d been to Hawaii? If not, the blogs are all here on this website ;) ).

As you head back into town you start going past restaurants, shops and bars. And lots of people. Much of the marathon isn’t barriered off but everyone knows what’s going on. The support is excellent – especially if you’re wearing pirate kit. Even from complete strangers. I thoroughly recommend it – wearing the kit that is, not doing an Ironman.

After 13 miles were ticked off (and I collected my blue ‘first lap completed’ wristband) I headed back out onto the first of the two smaller loops – I stopped where Sharon was cheering for about a minute and a half. She said something like “don’t stop” and I replied “I’d much prefer it if I did.” My main aim today was to get to the finish. I’d swum 2.4 miles, ridden 112 (and a bit) and was halfway through the marathon. I had this. It was likely to be my slowest ever Ironman but that didn’t matter. I just wanted to finish. The time was irrelevant. Stopping for a minute or two for a little conversion was lovely. So I did.

I think I said that I was probably going to walk much of the second half and when I left Sharon I did walk at first. Then got fed up with walking after about 30 seconds and started jogging. From then on I jogged to the aid stations (there are six of them on each of the small loops – so approximately every mile), and grabbed a mixture of energy drink, coke or Red Bull to drink, and water to throw over my head. And an energy gel every half hour or so. I religiously stuck to the plan and it worked. The miles were ticking off.

The more I ran the more of our pirate team were coming out onto the run. We had over 20 of us take part and to see them on the course was great. Not all made it onto the run after being timed-out during the bike leg – which was a shame – Ironman isn’t easy. Ironman Lanzarote isn’t easy. Ironman Lanzarote on a windy day really isn’t easy. As the second place overall finisher Christian Kramer said post race…

“The wind was like hell today. I’m so smashed, so happy to get to the finish line.”

Christian Kramer, 2nd place professional overall.

It was good to see on the course Chris from the COLT club. He’s taken part into this race well into double figures and I ran with him a bit in 2013. This year I was about 30 minutes behind him and his cowboy hat. But we still exchanged pleasantries when we passed one another.

Today was all about ticking off the miles until the finish – and absorbing the superb support from the course. Every should of ‘Go Pirate’ or just clapping aimed in my direction got a thumbs up, a smile or a thank you from me – that was the least I could do to say thank you. I get so much from the on course support and without it I’d probably hate the entire thing – but today I enjoyed running through town – even the uphill bits.

When you start the marathon the course goes slightly uphill for a few hundred metres. However, at the very end of each lap (and into the finish) it goes down. Fantastic. As I headed towards the end of the run I was so happy to be nearing the end.

My watch beeped at 26 miles and I was heading towards the finishing chute. I waved my two coloured wrist bands (you get a coloured band at the end of each loop and I now had blue and yellow ones) to the lady at the chute and I was able to pass her and onto the carpet. 50m to go.

The commentator was saying something in Spanish into her microphone. I high-fived her and headed to the line. Of course I needed to check behind me to make sure there’d be nobody in the way for the photos that I’d spent 59 euros on in advance! And that was it. I crossed the line with delight. A run time of just over 4 hours and 14 minutes.

Another Ironman ticked off. My overall time (including transitions) was 12 hours, 18 minutes and 53 seconds. My slowest ever Ironman but as with every one of them – one that I’m really satisfied with. The time didn’t matter. Getting to the start line in just about one piece was a challenge in itself, and getting to the finish was the icing on the cake. Many people would kill to have a time starting with a 12 – and I appreciate that. I’ve been quicker but that didn’t matter. We all haul ourselves round these stupidly long courses whilst juggling work, homes, families etc. It’s not easy and we do the best we can.

Overall my final finishing position was 411th out of 1531 listed athletes. 1358 people finished the race. At the end of the swim I was 75th in my age group, after the bike I’d gone up to 66th, and then at the end of the run I’d dropped three places to 69th.

Once you pass the finish line you head back down to the transition area on the beach. My first stop was to get some dry clothes on. Whilst hobbling around trying to get myself together I stumbled into the massage tent for a lie down. It was lovely. They even offered me a drink (“coke, water?”).

A ‘lovely’ post race massage

Post massage I collected my bike and transition bags and walked it all back to where Sharon had been supporting – we then headed back to where we were staying (about five minutes walk away) to drop off everything, grab a quick shower and then back to support the rest of the marathon runners still out on the course.

Drinking and supporting

Allen, who we came away with and I was probably responsible for suggesting a nice warm and sunny Ironman was out on his final loop when we got back and we waited to cheer him into the finish before heading to pirate central (“Ruta 66” bar) for a couple of beers and some pizza – and to keep cheering people in as they passed by. It was a lovely evening – especially when I didn’t have to do any more swimming, cycling or running. I’d done enough for one day.

Contrary to some rumours going round, Allen did not run the marathon in the sliders and socks combo!
Never have I been so happy to eat the smallest pizza ever made!

Just a bit of clapping, cheering and drinking. The perfect triathlon.

We headed back to the apartment with the time getting close to 1am. Job done.

I never sleep well after an Ironman – and we’d actually planned to do something quite abnormal on Sunday morning – go for a swim! Yes, you heard it right. At about 9am Sharon, Kirstee, Allen and myself jumped in the hire car and drove across the island to Club La Santa – and went for a swim in one of their three (yes, three) 50m swimming pools. I only swam a couple of hundred metres or so and it was good to give the legs a little wiggle. It was enjoyable.

I can’t believe I’ve just written this.

We then headed off for a big old breakfast and then went to the Ironman Hawaii slot allocation ceremony. We first went to this in 2013 and it was really enjoyable to witness slots for the Ironman World Championship get allocated to the fastest competitors in the different age groups. Little did I know at the time in 2013 that I’d get to go up on stage at Ironman UK a few months later, and then again in Wales a year after that. This time around I didn’t think the slots would roll down to 69th (so I was safe from financial ruin but a bloody good holiday) and we just sat back and watched dreams get realised. It was lovely.

Back in the car and then back to Puerto Del Carmen and Ruta 66 bar for a few drinks with the pirates and their annual ‘Championship Awards’.  More beers and cocktails were drunk with good friends. The biggest burger that I’ve ever eaten was then consumed followed by a snooze back at the apartment.

Ironman Lanzarote 2019 Pirate Finishers

And then back out for drinks again – starting with the little English bar down the road – The Rendezvous. Finisher t-shirts were worn along with medals and before long the ladies behind the bar came out for a photo with Allen and myself with our medals. Whilst this was all going on a chap stood up and said “are you David…” – oh dear, here we go… someone’s read my blog and is going to ask about those bloody Funky Trunks from Hawaii again!

Dave and Frank from Edinburgh – some of my top supporters at Ironman Lanzarote 2013 – six years ago.

Well… I couldn’t believe but it turned out to be one of my supporters from when I raced here in 2013 – back in my blog from then I wrote that we’d chatted with two couples from Edinburgh who were staying in the next room to ours at the apartment complex we were in. They asked about my training, what the race involved and come race day they gave me a load of support on the course – they were really lovely.

Well, I couldn’t believe it but here was one of the chaps (Dave) and his wife (Shona) from 2013, in the same bar, having a drink. I’d kinda hoped that I’d be able to bump into them whilst in Lanzarote this time as they said they were regulars to the Island. It turned out that they’d been looking out for me every year since I saw them in 2013. Well… six years later and it was time for a hug, a back slap and a photo. I couldn’t believe it – it was surreal and awesome.

Dave and David, Lanzarote 2019

The other chap – ‘Big Frank’ – has had some health issues over recent months so wasn’t out in Lanzarote but Dave said “Big Frank won’t believe that you’re here – he’ll be over the moon – let me call him!” – so the next thing I’m on the phone to Frank in Edinburgh telling him about my race and how I’ve just bumped into Dave.

We were at the pub until about 11pm before we headed off to Ruta 66 for more of the same. We met up with a few more pirates (what is it, perhaps a ‘shipful of pirates’) for more drinks and conversation. Good times.

And that was it. Ironman Lanzarote 2019. My 11th Ironman (iron-distance race) done and dusted.

I’ve now completed two different Ironman races more than once – Lanzarote and Hawaii.  Much that Lanzarote is tough, really tough – I do like the event and would recommend it. The flights are cheap, the accommodation is cheap, the logistics on race day are perfect. If it wasn’t for the wind and the hills it’d be perfect! It’s not my kind of course – I much prefer a ‘punchy’ type course with twists, turns, ups and downs. This race has them but not very many – it’s very much long stretches in the aero bars and being nearly 6 feet 4 inches tall I’d prefer to be up, down, up down. That seems to work better for me.

I’d certainly come to Lanzarote and do it again, but not for a long time once the difficulty of this one wears off. I’m really retired from Ironman for the time being – not necessarily for ever – but for the time being. I’d do another race if I had the motivation (and time) to train how I’d like to and give it a good shot at doing well. Work and life just got right in the way this time around. I cannot complain about work as that pays the bills but if things quieten down and I decide to do some proper training again then maybe, just maybe will I think about entering another long distance race.

In the meantime I’ll continue to bike, run and occasionally swim. I’m not sure if I’ll enter any triathlons or not in the near future – unless they’re really local to me.

Thanks for reading (if you got this far). These reports are mainly for me to read when I’m old and grey, but if anyone else wants to read, enjoy and pick up any hints and tips (on how not to train) then that’s great.

Finally a thank you to Sharon for always believing in me (well, I don’t think she believed I’d get round the swim in under 1 hour 10), encouraging me and feeding me better more healthy food over the past couple of months – a handful of pounds lost makes all the difference on the hills. She also made sure I was relaxed and ready for race day – in fact at one point she said “I don’t know why this is a holiday – I’m doing all the same chores that I do at home but here.” She had a point. But I was very relaxed, so that’s a good thing. x

All the photos in this blog were taken by Sharon Rowe, Finisherpix, S. Shine and G. McGill. Thank you.

4 comments on “Ironman Lanzarote 2019 – Race Day
  1. Nick Rose says:

    Great blog as usual, thanks for the write up, good to read your exploits bud

  2. Graham Diggens says:

    thanks for sharing David==== back to windsurfing now then !

  3. Gareth Scobie says:

    Great to see you back. It’s been a while.

  4. Andy says:

    Ive missed these blogs, welcome sort of back

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