The Kona Qualifying binge


August 23rd, 2016 by



2nd Ironman Copenhagen – Sub 8hrs – Kona Q 

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - AUGUST 21: Will Clarke of Britain finishes second at Ironman Copenhagen on August 21, 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images for Ironman)

That’s what I call a great weekend!

We started this year with a goal to Qualify for Kona and THEN do a good job in Kona. The nature of Ironman is that often these plans don’t quite work out and after starting the year with zero points carried over it’s no joke to qualify for Kona. I had a terrible race in Ironman Brazil despite being in pretty good shape actually, so that meant I had some catching up to do! Frankfurt went great as you’ll read in my earlier blogs there was 2000 points right there but still not enough. Then we made a plan to do 3 races in 7 weeks on a points hunt binge! Budapest 70.3 (small points but still something…) Wiesbaden 70.3 (big points) and Ironman Copenhagen (big points).

Hill climb Budapest

Budapest didn’t go well, the whole weekend didn’t go well. I crashed my bike on a wet ride before the race and hurt myself. Which meant I had a terrible swim, I used all my energy on the bike to catch back up and died in the heat on the run. It was one to forget about and move on. 

I was feeling much better going into the next two, training didn’t go very well actually because of my Budapest crash but I was feeling quite fit considering. Wiesbaden was up next which is the Ironman 70.3 European Champs and it went much better, I went into the race very refreshed and relaxed with my homestay host Stefan. Thanks man! I finished 9th but man it was a hard race. The level of the athletes was so incredibly high, I swam quite well, pushed my best ever Watts on the bike and held it together on the run (just). It only won me 300 points though which isn’t that helpful to my overall score and much worse I totally levelled myself so I was nervous about what would happen to me in an Ironman 7 days later! 

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I didn’t go home between Germany and Copenhagen so I could save myself a flight so I drove down the road and stayed with my buddy, Patrick Lange. He’s famous now for his win in the North American Champs and don’t we know it!!! I had an amazing few days staying with him in his home town. We ate our body weight in Schnitzels, Apfel Strudels and Cappuccinos, generally lounged around in Normatec boots and had a good old gossip. I loved training in Darmstadt, perfect place with quiet roads, a swim squad every evening and running…well I didn’t do any really! Thanks Patrick and Laura for letting me stay. 

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Pressure was on for Copenhagen. Our team director Bob De Wolf came out for this important occasion as this is the last day possible to qualify for Kona, and I was on a podium or bust scenario! We spent the days before trying to drive the course, eating pasta and danish pastries and doing the general Ironman admin which is always a laugh…NOT! Anyway, eventually race day came round and I was feeling ready as I could be. 

My swim was spot on finally, after struggling for a while in the water in training and racing, I was able to sit on the leaders feet till the end as the pace started pretty easy and gradually wound up faster and faster. I got onto the bike in joint first with Igor Amorelli with a 47mid swim time. I managed to avoid the hundreds of jelly fish we passed and also luckily I didn’t go head on with all the age groupers swimming off course! 

We jammed the first part of the bike as I could see that we had a small gap the other strong guys but once we got out of town I realised we were not hurting anyone apart from ourselves so I settled into the line with the other 6 guys. (Raelert, Carvallo, Neilsson and Casedi) The pace was quite high for me, I was above 310w for a bit too long for my liking but I stayed with it hoping it would calm down. It didn’t unfortunately and I knew if I carried on at this pace I wouldn’t be running fast today! So after 60k I made a conscious decision to leave some cheeky gaps hoping to end up with a smaller group of like minded athletes to ride with. 4 of the guys drifted off the front and I ended up working with Alberto Casedi, my mate from the ITU days. The pace was much more ‘me’ and we took 5k turns each trying to get from A-B as fast as possible. With 30k to go I lost my buddy and went it alone as I started to feel pretty strong again. I finished with a 4hr25 bike split which is a nice 6mins PB I think. 

I got onto the run in 5th with a 8mins gap to the leader and 5mins to 4th place. Work to do thats for sure against some very classy athletes (3 of them have won many Ironman race between them).  I had paced the bike very well and I was confident that I was going to have fast legs. It’s funny, you have around 40,000 steps to make to get round the marathon but you just know the moment your feet hit the ground after 4.5hrs hard on the bike how your legs are going to feel on the run. I always say a prayer in those last 2k of the bike!!! 

Thankfully god answered my prayers and I had good legs! I set off chasing way too hard. My target is best case scenario around 3:50p/k pace, that gets you in around 2hr40 but I was going 3:30 pace for the first 5k. I had to tell myself to mature a little bit and slow it down to maximum 3:50! I caught a lot of time in the first lap and after 12k I passed Igor Amorelli. Then it was time to try to hunt for the podium. I kept pushing on and got through 1/2 marathon in 2:18 I was gaining all the time and sure enough at 25k I went past Fabio Carvallo. I was stoked to finally be in the podium hunt and to my surprise Bob De Wolf said Andreas is just 1minute ahead! That was when I ran my fastest with excitement! I went back up to 3:30 pace and caught Andreas nice and quickly! 

finish copenhagen Till

At 30k I heard Till Schenk the announcer say to the crowd that I was on target for a sub 8hr performance. That’s been a goal of mine since I started Ironman, as it’s quite an special club! I was still under 2:39 marathon pace at 30k but I was starting to get very tired! I slowed down to around 4mins+ pace and tried to maintain, I was getting very flat, I was spending longer in aid stations cooling off and getting my nutrition down and generally shutting it down to stop the agony but I always had a sub 8 finish in the back of my mind. What if I just pushed on for ‘another’ 20mins or so?! Towards the end, all records were out the window, I just didn’t care any more and just wanted to get to the finish and lie down but with 1k to go I could sense Till getting excited, the music was pumping and the incredible crowd were amped up so I went all out just in case I was onto something! I got onto the carpet with 7hr59m10s on the clock and the feeling I’ll never forget. Massive congrats to Patrik Nilsson for his win and 7th fastest Ironman ever I think! 

Bob and me

Ironman is truly an incredible experience. You put in so much hard work and make so many sacrifices, you race on your limit 8hrs, against intense competition, as a professional you’ve got a job on the line and a family to feed. When you finally hit that finish straight it’s got to be one of the best feelings in the World. 

Massive thanks as always to my family who support me no matter what the result, my friends, my amazing team who have got my to this level, BMC Etixx Pro Triathlon Team Powered by Uplace with Bob and Ben De Wolf every supportive. The man with the plan Luc Van Lierde, Rudy Heylen for keeping the mental side strong. Social media has been nuts and I’ve loved it, thanks for the messages.

Can’t wait to get to Kona and try to have my best ever Ironman performance there.

Budapest Fail


August 1st, 2016 by



Bike Tunnel

I’m on a mission right now and that is to get myself a place on the start line for Ironman World Championships in Kona. The biggest show that long course Triathlon has to offer, It’s important for me and BMC Etixx Pro Triathlon Team to get there and honestly I’d like to be able to do something great as well! It’s not that easy though, especially when you start the year on the back foot. Many of the top athletes cruise the selection process because they grab heaps of points from Hawaii the year before and also some late season racing after that. However I started the year from zero so it’s quite difficult to catch up. Obviously if you mess up your first Ironman you have to overcome the mental and physical fatigue and you have to get yourself back in shape after tapering and recovering so you waste a fair bit of time if it goes south first time up.

Hill climb Budapest

I gave myself a good boost with my 5th place performance in Frankfurt, I took 2000 points for that which gives me 2300 from two races so far. I ‘just’ need another ~1300 ish to finish the job.

I’ve planned a bit of a racing binge, starting with a very low points race in Budapest, two weeks later in Wiesbaden and then 1 week later in Copenhagen. The latter two have 3 x and 4x as many points as Budapest making them the crucial ones, so luckily Budapest was actually a bit insignificant, actually more of a little top up.

Recovery from Ironman Frankfurt went really well, I was feeling strong in training just a week or so after the race so I was pretty positive for Budapest 70.3 and motivated!

 

Swim start

Race week had different plans for me though. I did one of my best swim sessions I’ve done for years in the pool but pulled up with a sore neck as a result of it. Then I checked into this really crappy hotel in Budapest before the race that my coached athlete organised (next time I choose Ohad!) and on the sketchiest training ride I’ve ever done I stacked it on wet tram tracks and messed up my bike and made myself even more sore! I just don’t like being in these big city locations, not for me!

To be fair I got it all sorted eventually and I didn’t even feel particularly sore on race day but I was never quite on it, I got pumped in the swim, I chased hard on the bike in very hot weather and actually I rode quite well but tactically I was well out of it by the time I caught back up. I still had a chance for a podium if I had run like normal but I felt very hot and very dead from the start so after 7k I pulled the pin and jogged home. I did however beat Alexander Vinkourov’s bike split which is a bonus.

riding

It sucks to pull out but I know it’s the right decision, as you can see I’ve got some serious racing ahead of me and I’ve GOT to be fresh for that. 20 points and a heap of fatigue is not going to get me to Kona!

I’ll keep you updated on my progress!

Thanks for the amazing pictures Darren Wheeler.

 

 

Ironman Frankfurt – 5th place


July 4th, 2016 by



finish photo

Oh here he is…Finally popping back up to speak a few days after a result to be proud of in Ironman Frankfurt. Truth is I actually wrote TWO race reports after my rubbish race in Ironman Brazil but never posted them because they just sounded bitter and morbid and that’s not what I want.

To update you briefly on those, I want to get to Kona. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, so I had to race big points races and for that we chose Brazil about 5 weeks back. Everything was great leading into those, I was super positive. I felt very fit and prepared but the race was an utter mess with the drafting, I got shafted on the bike, ended up all on my own, pulling out on the run exhausted.

To pick myself back up I quickly got myself into Challenge Denmark for the 1/2 distance race. If I didn’t do something I’d keep on moping about. I did a decent job there. I definitely had a bit of fatigue in my legs from what I did in Brazil but I finished up 3rd with a pretty fast run and confidence back where it needed to be.

Challenge Denmark was mainly used to tune the engine, and keep me occupied and in the game for European Champs, Ironman Frankfurt another chance to grab up 4000 qualification points. 

I felt pretty good leading into Ironman Frankfurt regardless of the preparation being pretty bit disturbed and sporadic. However I definitely was still riding the wave of fitness I managed to get from the training for Ironman Brazil, it doesn’t go anywhere really.

The field was really stacked. Many of the best guys in the World racing, Sebastian Kienle, Andi Bocherer, Tim O’donnel, Eneko Llanos to name a few. I’ll put my neck out and say I’m sure it will be the best field outside of Kona.

After a non-wetsuit swim was randomly announced last minute to everyones shock, it was a quick kit change and down to the swim start. Everything happens so fast on race morning when the gun goes off at 6:30am. I hit the water and felt crap straight away. I think a combination of a lack of swim form, getting mauled in the first few hundred meters, bad technique and the cold water threw me completely. I even contemplated pulling over once, I felt like I was hyperventilating a bit and dizzy. However eventually I got round the swim and came out just under 4mins down in 52mins. (had no idea how far down actually I was at the time). That’s my career worst swim right there!

Onto the bike I knew we had a heap of work to do but I also knew that Ironman is a very long day and many people will come back to us in the latter stages. It’s all too easy to follow the big guns and over cook it when you come out the swim with them. I was however with some top boys in Bertrand Billard and Jeremy Jurkiewicz so we just did our race plan and rode at a sensible pace. Never too quick, never too slow. Fortunately the pace that Billard and co. set going out was about perfect for me. We rounded the first lap in a casual 282w and on the 2nd lap I decided to start pushing at the front and around 140k we were still sitting steady at 282w and feeling in perfect control. We began passing many top guys who had obviously over cooked it and we also started to drop the athletes we had ridden with the last 3hrs. We began to realise, “hey, we’re still in the game here!” I got onto the run around 11th with Billard, also Denis Chervot and Tim O’Donnel who we caught towards the end of the ride.

Running out my plan was to start at a steady 4:05 pace, manage my nutrition as well as possible and at 6k push on if you feel ‘it’. In Lucs words. So of course we all ran out at around 3:20 pace to impress the crowds which is obviously way too hard! Even once I told myself to slow the hell down we were sitting on 3:40. At 4k I went for a toilet stop and got re-passed by a few guys but once all done and feeling way lighter, I caught back up with Denis Chervot and we decided we’d buddy up and run together and aim at 2:45 marathon pace which I’d be more then happy with.  We had a bit of a chat and we discussed a fair bit that it feels quite like a Sunday long run at the moment but sure anyone with a bit of experience will never read into the first half of the marathon, you’ll be a fool to think that you’re the only one that feels good in the early stages and it’s the last 20k where the real difference is made if you’re the one still moving fast.

I actually felt so good that eventually I went back on my word with Denis and pushed on back up to 3:40 pace for the 3rd lap of 4. That really was a magic lap for me, even more of the top guys came back to me and now I was now in the hunt for 5th place!

I couldn’t believe that 7.5hrs of racing had passed and I still holding the same paces as the beginning the time in an Ironman really does go pretty fast if you’re sensible with your pacing and nutrition but I was starting to get pretty tired, the quads were going and if I put a foot wrong I started to buckle at the legs. I’d been moving for so long that I felt like if I had stopped my legs would probably carry on going and I’d stack it! So I started with the coke stops just in case and bought it back to a more manageable pace.

5th place was hard to get but eventually I got him and couldn’t stop smiling the whole last lap at my best Ironman BY FAR! I knew from my watch that I was going to come in somewhere around 2:40ish so I pushed hard the last 5k just incase I could walk away with one of the fastest marathons of the year and for sure a run course record which is certainly worth having for the sake of 15mins of pain!

I’m so stoked to have achieved this, when I came into Ironman to be honest I thought I’d have a much easier time then I did in ITU but this is a different sport. You have to be a real student of the sport to get it and the level of the best athletes is incredibly high. Sebastian Kienle and Andi Bocherer we’re crazy strong out there and killed everyone, Congratulations to them. 

I had many doubts over the past few years about wether I could translate my ITU ability into an Ironman performance but this is just a little confirmation to me that I CAN be good at this and I’m on the right path. I have to say my team BMC Etixx Powered by Uplace and the whole structure they put in place for their members, my coach Luc Van Lierde, Psychologist Rudy, Physio, Doc and of course we’re using some of the best equipment available. I’ve really been a benefactor of this set up. It was up to me to stay motivated, work hard and finally with this little confirmation I’ve found the love and I’m motivated more then ever to keep striving in this game.

Thanks to all for your support everyone, social media has been off the hook and I love it! Big thanks especially my long suffering wife Clare and Fredmeister general.