Boulder – Ironman Texas


April 27th, 2017 by




STAGS

This year the Clarke family agreed that we’d pack up and head off Stateside for our first big trip of the year culminating with Ironman Texas. I just don’t know for how many more years I’ll be able to just cruise off the Boulder to prepare for a race. My son is not too far off starting school and you never know if or when the money will dry up. So we decided while we could, we would. I absolutely love it over there, in my eyes it’s the ultimate place to train. I find the perfect balance between happiness and hard work in Boulder + the altitude does a lot of the hard work for you anyway. So of my 4 trips to Boulder, I never failed to get in shape.

Brainard

There was an elephant in the room for this trip. Before I got on the flight I hadn’t run for 3 whole weeks, recovering from a stress reaction my doctor diagnosed in my hip. It’s the first time in my career I’ve had to manage something like this and I never really knew if or when I started back my hip would be truly ready to train again. However I did manage to get all the running done that Luc set me done during my 3 week Boulder trip, sometimes it wasn’t pretty and on some of those runs my body unbalanced and way out of whack, but in general the volume was fairly low and luckily it just about held up for me. I knew if I could make it through the running the week taper would help it recover the rest of the way and luckily it did.

Ironman Texas also hosts the North American Championships so it attracts a pretty strong field and offers decent prize money and points for qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. We stayed with a local family, Lisa and Ewan Evans who were kind enough to host my wife and my son as well. A massive thanks to them for putting up with us, they really made our trip.

When I first signed up for this one I had my heart set on going Sub 8hrs again and possibly a British record and I could see the days before that this was going to be a FAST! Especially with the forecast set to be overcast on race day. Lucky me… I think on a hot day it’d have been different. 

family Texas

After all the extra effort in swimming training recently, including getting up at 4am for Stretch Cords in the garden. I was super happy that I could keep up with the front lads in the swim. It’s something I was nervous about before the race because non-wetsuit swims are something I struggled with last year in Ironman racing. I think I lost 4mins both times last year and that’s not a good start to the day when you’ve got 180k and a marathon ahead of you.

It was a bit spread out once we finally got through transition and onto the bike. Starky took off like he always does but I think everyone knew trying to follow wasn’t an option. He was chasing bike course records again and after everything he’s been through. Read his story…we knew he wouldn’t be running properly at the end but fair play, amazing to see his comeback and incredible bike split. Anyway, after 10k we pretty much established ourselves and rode a steady pace for the first 90k.

I could see that the best bikers had lost around 6mins in the swim but still I was sure they’d make an appearance eventually. Around about 40k I made my first mistake of the race. I took one of my Etixx Bars from my bike and managed to pull two off at once. So I gobbled one of them and then tried to put the other in my pocket but right in front of the referee I lost grip on it and dropped it. Intentional littering is a 5mins penalty so I was spewing that he carded me for a blatant accident! I was having the perfect race so far so losing 5mins would completely end my day. When I got to the penalty tent I watched all my hard work undo itself as the others rode past me but fortunately the referee said he was only giving me 1min penalty and after 50secs he let me go once he realised that he was too harsh on me. I could just about see the other lads and I bombed it back up to them catching them back within 5k of riding. Definitely some matches burnt there…

running Texas

The bikers finally caught us at 100k into the bike and instantly the pace got much harder and this is when guys started falling off the back of the group. I went through a bit of a wobble around 120k and after 5k of pushing too hard I realised that if I carried on like this I wasn’t going to feature on the run, so I let about 12 guys disappear up the road and I ended up with a group of three athletes. Unfortunately I was the strongest guy in this threesome and the guys couldn’t contribute much so especially in the last 15k we lost quite a bit of time on the groups in front. This was my 2nd mistake of the day because in the end there was easily a minute or more which would have been very easy to recover.

What it did mean is that when I finally got onto the run, providing my legs were up for it, and my hip injury didn’t make an appearance. I was probably going to run through a lot of people, which is funny as it’s a whole marathon and longer than I ever train by quite a margin. I know from the very moment I put on my On Cloud Flows whether I’m going to run fast or whether I’m going to be creeping. It’s night and day for me. Well on this day, I felt great and I set off in pursuit of the podium! I saw the timing clock was on 5hr 15mins. I used my best maths to work out that gave me 2hr45 to get through transition which was quite long and get a marathon ticked off if I wanted to get under 8hr again.

When you get an Ironman right there is no better feeling, the first 20k didn’t really hurt me at all. I enjoyed it, soaked up the atmosphere on the course and enjoyed still being able to move fast after 6hrs of racing! I think I went through the first 10k in 35mins which is way too fast but I had already caught 6 guys by the end of the first lap. In an Ironman you can’t get more motivating then that! In these Professional races you have to remember that everyone can run a good first half of the marathon, That’s the easy bit and I tried to remind myself of that… It’s the 2nd half where the wheels really fall off so I consciously slowed it down to something a little more sustainable, took my time in the aid stations and focused on still being strong on the last lap.

Ronnie and I

The next guys were very tough to catch as by the last lap I was still on 2:38 pace but I was starting to get very sore in my quads. It’s not really surprising is it after 7hrs on the limit!? With 5k to go I passed Krill Kotsegarov and moved into 4th place but as soon as I did that I started to fade a lot. 1st and 2nd were out of the equation now but 3rd place Tyler Butterfield was just 30sec ahead and was hurting! However now I was paying for the 3 weeks of running that I missed and every time I pushed my quads locked up and mentally it was crazy challenging!

The whole last lap all nutrition was out of the window. I was back to backing Etixx Caffeine Energy Gels and chugging cups of coke and Isotonic at all the aid stations! I could see that Tyler was doing the same. I got the gap down to 15 seconds, which is agonisingly close but that was all I could physically close. As I ran up the finishing chute I could see that the timing clock was just about to tick over 7:59 so I became the first British person ever to go sub 8hrs twice. 

I’m super happy with my start to the season. It’s only April, this result payed for my whole trip (but that’s about it). Got me most of the way to qualifying for Kona again, and gave me confidence that I really belong among the top guys in Ironman. Thanks to everyone who supports me on my journey. My family, BMC Etixx P/B Uplace Team, On running, Luc Van Lierde and my friends. Congrats to everyone who finished, especially my competitors Matt, Ronnie and Tyler.

Texas podium

Winter gains


February 20th, 2017 by



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With over half of the winter ticked off now and just 5 weeks till my first race of the year. I thought I’d update you on how things are going and how the season is shaping up.

I’ve just returned from my 3rd trip to Lanzarote this winter staying at my home from home Sands Beach Resort. My aim this winter was to get through as consistent as possible and as far as I’m concerned, just that would already be a big success for me. I’ve always prided myself for being a consistent athlete in training and racing but the the past 5 years not so much at all as every winter has had it’s complications and sometimes that also crept into the season as well. I think February and March are very important preparation months and if you miss half of that with sickness, crashes, injuries, motivation. Whatever it is then you’re paying for it during the season.

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The past 3 years I was wintering in South Africa and as much as I think it’s a stunning location and an incredible place to spend time, for me it’s not ideal for training anymore. It’s too hot (in training and also when trying to recover at home) the wind and the hills slowly grind you down and to be honest, quite dangerous and the chances of having something go wrong is high. So I decided now to train most of the winter in Lanzarote. Our team sponsor Sands Beach look after us so well providing us with a warm outdoor pool a pull buoy’s throw away, great accommodation and healthy food that we can grab just moments after training which is perfect for recovery. The temperature is spot on for consistent training during winter at around 20-23’c but it’s also cool enough to sleep like a baby at night. It’s a tough island due to the hills and the wind but equally that makes you strong! As it’s probably the best place in Europe to train in the winter many professional athletes train on the island so you always have someone to train with as well as the local athletes on the island keen to hook up.

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As I write this the winter has gone perfectly to plan, my form is slowly moving in the right direction and I’m excited for the first block of racing. So far I’ve planned just the first part of the season as what happens after that will depend on the first races. I’ll go to Puerto Rico 70.3 first up, mostly as a tune up and to blow the cob webs out. Then I’ll take an internal flight to Boulder, Colorado for a block of altitude training where my family will also come and join me. Then after a month there my first big goal, Ironman Texas which is also the American Championships (big points and prize money). My goal is to qualify for Kona again but I only want to go if I know I can be successful. This means qualifying early enough in the year that I’m fresh enough in October to put together a hot and hard Ironman performance but I also need to know my Time Trialling is in place and that’s what I’ve been working on his winter. This is my weakness and it’s something I’ve been working hard to improve. Puerto Rico and Texas will be the first indicators if my biking is ready to play with the big boys.

I hope you all have a successful winter and excited for the Tri season, see you out there!

Photo Credit : Breakthrough media

Kona 2016


October 20th, 2016 by



…and that’s 2016 done. It feels strange because normally I get to this part of the season and I’m completely dead and purely hanging for my break but this time we really paced the season well under the guidance of Luc Van Lierde and I got to World Champs feeling relatively fresh and pretty motivated but it didn’t quite work out this time.

Coming off Copenhagen I was definitely riding high. I was super happy with my 2nd place and sub 8hr performance and getting my qualification sorted for World Champs in Kona. I also knew that we had gone into that race at 85% giving us room to move up to 100% for Kona. We did a bit of training post race in Copenhagen to aid recovery as we didn’t have time on our side preparing for Kona. I had two blocks planned, one in Lanzarote and then I travelled to San Diego to spend time with Juliano Truel, team mate Ronnie and Fabio to finish my last preparations.

Both blocks went quite well considering and I had high hopes for the race. I didn’t focus too much on how I felt, I just tried to do everything on the plan to the best of my ability. I needed the work in the legs. There were complications though, I got sick directly after Copenhagen, but not really sick. Just athlete sick… which was enough for my energy to be a little too low at times and carry a cough right the way through to race day in Kona. After every Ironman I’ve finished so far I’ve picked up something afterwards, if you look at Ironman on paper, it’s not surprising really. It’s a pretty mental day out.

bike-check-in

For most people racing 4 Ironman races in one year sets off alarm bells but I had no choice. Kona is the pinnacle of the sport, of course it would have been nice to have been able to take an easier path to arrive in Hawaii but in the end we had to qualify for Kona even if it meant that I’d be a little over cooked. I wanted to experience this iconic race and get experience about what’s required to be successful here but also it was very important for my team BMC Etixx for me to be there as we launched our new bike this year and this is essentially the biggest trade show we have in our sport!

kona-dolphins

Race day finally came round after a nice week in Hawaii and I wasn’t good from the beginning.  I had a bad swim and lost the group at the first buoy and the front guys put quite a bit of time into us.  On the bike I was still in the game for a top result but only just and as soon as I started peddling I realised that I didn’t have power in the legs. I rode with a big group of around 20 riders but the pace was very up and down and it caused a concertina effect in the group and it was very hard to keep the distance steady at 10 meters gap and at one point everyone sat up and I drifted to 8m’s and that was it, I got carded and given a 5min penalty. Game over…

bike-kona

I knew I was screwed from the beginning so I wasn’t actually too pissed about my penalty, when I got to the sin bin 9 people had already visited which shows that the Rambo the ref was on a true rampage. I got out about 30 seconds after Bertrand Billard and Callum Milward. I worked hard to catch these guys so I had at least some company and then we rode together till the turn around. On the way home our group of 5 started to get stretched again and with 50k to go I had to let them go and then I just grovelled to the finish line working hard with what I had left in the legs.

When my feet hit the transition after 50mins swimming and close to 5hrs riding my legs felt horrendous. Like not being able to even run 10k easy horrendous. However once I put on my shoes I started to feel a bit lighter in the legs and I ran out reasonably well. The crowds are fantastic for the first 2k through town and it was a good buzz but then it fizzles out and you’re on your own. Any chance of a top 15 was out of the question now. I was pretty disappointed so my ambition was now very low.  I caught up with Joe Skipper who was also struggling and we ran together for the first 6k (actually quite well) before I had to take a toilet stop and from then it all went south again. I had about a 6k stretch where I stopped and walked and jogged again and my main ambition was to make it back to town to pack up and go home. I decided I’d run to where Clare was standing and then I’d stop and we’d walk home together.

 

 

2016 Ironman World Championship

2016 Ironman World Championship

I finally saw Clare at around 16k and was really excited to finally sit down and go get a Burger King. She saw me coming and ran up to me and generally told me what I really didn’t want to hear. “You are going to finish this!”, “Common you are not going to pull out”, “don’t be a pussy” and Clare is a very enthusiastic supporter so imagine this at full volume! I sat down and rejected her efforts but I had rested in the wrong place and the aid station volunteers were onto me hard! The encouragement amazing, they also shouted at me, “You got this!”, “Just keep going”! I got about 5kg of ice poured over me, about 8 cups of coke placed in front of me, offered around 6 bananas, gels and bars – not forgetting the pretzels. After 5mins of that I realised what Ironman is about. It’s about finding a way to get round, doing whatever it takes, never giving up on the journey. Not just about the top 10, prize money, points, contracts…

2016 Ironman World Championship

2016 Ironman World Championship

16 miles when you’re completely dead mentally and physically out and back along a highway was a hell of a chunk to bite off but I made a decision that I was going to finish today and fortunately when I got around the first corner Joe was about 5 seconds away from getting a car and going home himself so I grabbed him and we made a verbal contract and decided that we’d get round together running the whole way but walking every aid stations and that is my advice to anyone who is struggling to finish an Ironman.

finish-skipper

Breaking it down like that worked wonders and finally Joe and I got to get our moneys worth and cross that iconic finish line! I’m really proud that we decided to take the difficult option. Like every Age Grouper on the course does! Congrats to everyone that finished!

So much appreciation for Clare and my the rest of my family for their endless support, my friends and fans, my amazing and loyal team BMC Etixx and other sponsors, coach Luc Van Lierde and the rest of my support team I’ve worked with. I learnt a lot to come back with next year to attack Kona again properly.

Congrats to Jan Frodeno and Daniela Ryf for their wins, Seb Kienle for his podium and my close friend Patrick Lange for his amazing 3rd place and Kona run record of 2:39! I hope I can challenge you guys one day soon!

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