316 Paul Venn, GBR
Position in AG 40-44: DNF // Finish Time: DNF
Swim: 1:05:01 // T1: 7:57 // Bike: DNF // T2: Medical tent // Run: home…
Coach’s remarks: Grab a coffee and read this race report from Venny. Talk about emotion, those who know Venny know how hard he is. I was blown away with his honesty and this sums up the several people who were also doubting themselves to see how a few of you really suffered Saturday. A great honest read…. Thanks for sharing this Venny…best report yet!!
Where to start? The last time I wrote a race report I was as happy as a pig in shit which made the words flow. Not so true today.
The weekend started really well. The group 15-15-15 at Ghantoot reminded me why I have had such a great year. It is hard to imagine that it is only 12 months since you got me through (just) my first ever triathlon at Ghantoot the week before Abu Dhabi. And here I was staring down the barrel of the long course ahead of Ironman South Africa next month.
It seemed like a good idea when I registered. I thought it would be a sighter before the big race in Port Elizabeth. Carl called me today and we talked about learning from races and mistakes you make. I guess the biggest learning is stick to short course!
I had a real blast on the Friday. Checked in. Sorted kit and dropped everything off at the transitions. The whole team was very relaxed – laughing and joking and I am sure that contributed to me being very calm the morning of the race. Did not sleep very well but that was more down to sharing a room with Guy ‘Slackbladder’ Coghlan. Forget Mr. National – that’s the name that’s going on his next race suit. I put it down to him being much older than me. He claims it was over-hydration.
I had my usual breakfast. Got in the cab and headed off down to the start. It was at this point that I made my biggest mistake of the day. I had put my salt sticks and nuun tablets in my transition bag instead of bringing them with my GU in the morning. Unfortunately they stayed in my transition bag and are now a sticky mess all over my wet suit!
Again I was very calm in the lead up to the start which is unusual as my HR is usually up to 100 at this point. I was with Tiger in the swim start and felt pretty good as I warmed up. I don’t know what it is about the wet suit that makes me so much faster but it does. Maybe Ed is right about the body hair but we won’t know for sure until Janahan persuades me to Veet. Good luck with that one JT!
Swim. The horn sounded and off I went. The field wasn’t that big and it thinned out pretty quick so I never really had much time to find feet. I had broken the swim down into 10 parts based on the buoys and beach which helped me get a rhythm really fast. It was my turn to have someone flicking my feet but that worked in my favour because like most men I can’t multi-task so when I concentrate on my stroke I stop kicking. It also made me confident that I was not last.
I was surprised how kick the beach came. 30 minutes for the first lap. Well chuffed. That time would have been impossible before your swimming session. I had in my mind the 1hr 15min swim you and I had talked about so I was ahead of schedule without going like a train. The second lap was a little slower – about 35 minutes but it was a massive boost ahead of SA. I had cramped up a few times in my legs as I reached the far buoy for the last time but I stopped kicking and it cleared.
No worries. Great start. Now only 200kms on a bike into a wind to go.
Bike. It wasn’t until I had been on the bike a few minutes that I realized I had left my salt and nuun in the transition bag. Hindsight is wonderful and maybe I should have gone back but there is nothing to say it would have stopped me blowing up like I did.
I sat at a steady pace on the way out to Yas. Could not get my arms comfortable but nothing serious and it soon passed. The wind was stiff but I knew it meant a tailwind on the way back. I reached the circuit and did what everyone does and became Michael Schumacher on a bike for 5kms. Exit track and back to the Corniche.
I sat with a couple of guys who were drafting so I let them pull me along for a while until one of them dropped. I was then left at the front with this guy, who must have been German judging by the world’s worst moustache he was sporting. He sat on my wheel for a large part of the way to the Corniche until the pros passed us and had a real pop at him for drafting. He was right on my wheel – a few inches back. He passed me which meant I had to watch his facial hair as he sat alongside me instead of behind me. I preferred pulling him along personally!
I felt fine when I reached the Corniche turn around point for the first time. I saw you and remembered you saying “just keep shoveling the fuel down you Venny”. I had been. GU, Chomps and fluids every half an hour and a banana every time I managed to grab one from the feed stations.
As I passed the short course turn around, with the wind full on in my face, I started to get really sore feet where my cleats were. I have never had this before and it just got worse and worse. As I reached the 90kms mark I was really starting to struggle. I was cramping. My feet were killing me. The wind was beating me.
There were so few bikers out. There was no-one in sight. Literally. I could not see anyone in either direction. I got a couple of double caffeine Espresso GUs inside me but that did not help. I was willing myself not to stop but it was a struggle. I just wanted to get to the circuit so I could get the wind behind me.
The struggle continued and as I approached the circuit I decided that I had had enough. I decided to get round the track, then stop at the aid station and get a car back to the finish. I could have walked round the circuit quicker but managed to get round and literally jumped off the bike at the aid station. Cramped up, sat down and took my shoes off. I was done. There were plenty of others doing the same. The volunteers poured water over me and made me eat. I guzzled a couple of gatorades. Ate some chomps and another caffeine GU.
It took about 10 minutes but I managed to pull myself together and decided to try and make it to the next aid station. The good news was the pain in my feet went when I took my shoes off. I got back on the bike, pulled out of the circuit and burst into tears. I don’t know where they came from or why. I managed to stop them the first time but seconds later I was sobbing.
I have not cried like that since Jack was born and before that when Newcastle threw away a 12 point lead at Xmas to lose the premiership title to Man Utd. I don’t know what the spectators or marshalls thought but I sobbed and cried like a baby for about 10 minutes. At 30km/h! All I could think of was my family. As quickly as they started. They stopped. Still don’t know where they came from.
I don’t know if it was in my mind, or a reality, but the wind seemed to be in my face again as I headed towards Saadiyat Island. Having reached the turnaround point the first time averaging more than 30km/h I was now down at 28 and it was dropping all the time. I was constantly cramping and it was hot. I made it to the next aid station where it turned out I know one of the volunteers. That was also a massive boost. Threw more water over myself. Ate. Recovered. Got back on the bike. The same could not be said for a couple over from Denmark who were lying on the floor waiting for an ambulance. I can only imagine what the heat felt like for them.
Off I went again. Still cramping and with 60 klicks to go. That went on from aid station to aid station. I stopped at the aid station under the bridge nearing the corniche where I was told it was 43 degrees. It felt hotter than that. By this stage I knew I could make it to the finish line where I would not need a lift back. That was a big motivator.
I managed to get to the turnaround point for the last time. 160kms down. I willed myself to carry on. Only 40 to go. I could do this. As I headed back to Saadiyat I passed a guy on his bike picking up discarded water bottles. It turned out he was out from Germany for the race. He had finished the short course and was cycling back to the Yas Hotel – bloody miles! We talked for a few minutes then he said goodbye and left me for dead. As he pulled past me I was greeted to the sight of split lycra. It’s the first time I’ve seen butt cheeks during a bike ride. I hope it’s the last time. Pretty funny at the time though.
By this time was I cramping in my legs every few minutes but I knew I was 20kms to the last turn point and 20kms back. I did not care whether I had a run in me. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead. I made it out to the turn point. 177.7kms. I will never forget it. The final section. That felt good.
The wind was still blowing hard. It felt like it was in my face both directions. I was down on the bars counting every km as my watch buzzed the intervals. One bridge before Khalifa Bridge for the 6th and last time and then I was as good as home. That was when the shit hit the fan.
As I got to the top of the first bridge my leg locked with cramp. Worse than ever. I could not stretch it out. It was agony so I slammed on the brakes and unclipped. It’s at this point that it gets a bit blurred as to what happened in what order. I remember getting off the bike to try and stretch. I remember another guy stopping to ask me if I was ok. I remember asking for a medic. I passed out. Not sure what order they happened in.
I just could not stop the cramp. My hamstrings, calves, shins, fingers, arms. They were all going. A police car pulled up and they gave me a couple of bottles of water as I introduced them to several new words in between apologizing for swearing. A medic turned up. Great guy. Did a fantastic job getting me in a position where the cramps weren’t so bad although my arse was burning from the tarmac. I kept hyperventilating and was getting pins and needles in my hands and legs.
I stayed there for what seemed like ages. Must have been half an hour. I was told the cut off time had been extended and not to worry about time because there were still several people still passing us in the other direction headed for the turn around. I asked the medic to follow me for a while because we were both concerned about my ability to get over Sheikh Khalifa bridge but I felt like I could get on the bike again. As I tried to stand up I got the worse cramp yet in my stomach and back. That really shit the medic up because I think he thought I was having a heart attack when I grabbed my chest. I used up every swear word known to man and a few more. That policeman will never be the same again.
That was it. My day was over. I decided to leave it for another day. I had swum 3kms then cycled 185 in brutal conditions. I knew that meant I could get through the first part of ironman. I’ll take that.
T2. So they loaded my in the ambulance, still cramping, and took me to the finish. Into the medical tent for a drip. I hate needles so tried to do without it but the doctor promised me it would not hurt. He was lying but still probably right.
I still don’t really know what the rest of the team did but I am piecing it together. Sounds like everyone had blinders and pushed through horrible conditions to set great times and win in some cases. It meant so much to get back to my phone to find text messages from people worried about me. I was feeling pretty low and that really helped. Not quite as much as the upsized dinner box and chicken fillet burger with large fries I had at KFC on the way home but it all helped!!
I cannot praise the volunteers and medics enough. From the old lady that first threw a bottle of cold water over me at the Yas circuit to the doctor who helped me in the medical tent. It was them that got me through 90kms of pain. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them stood at the side of the road dishing out bananas, drinks and GU for 10 hours. Much respect. I think sometimes we take them for granted.
I would be lying if I did not say I am incredibly disappointed not to have finished. I’m sure the team get it but the office does not and I am tired of telling people at work today that I did not finish. I am trying to take the positives – and there were honestly plenty – but no-one likes to quit. I learnt a huge amount. I will be developing a check list. Just like Carl’s and I will take that check list to transition. And I saved myself a 20km run!
But the biggest learning is that every dark place has an entry and an exit. It’s what you do in between those that makes the difference. I never expected it to last as long as it did but I put in 7 hours on the bike, half of them desperate to get off and it is that which I hope will see me through the ironman in a month’s time. Not trying to be philosophical or clichéd. Just honest.
Will I do long course again? I can’t say for certain. I’m not good with failure or admitting weakness so I know I have unfinished business. Personal pride at stake. I will not underestimate it. 200kms is 200kms. There is nowhere to hide but isn’t that why we do what we do? I met you because I wanted to achieve something meaningful the year I was 40. You got me through the marathon in 2 months. Through short course last year in 2 months. I have wondered for a while whether I would be able to motivate myself enough to carry on once I had done an ironman. Maybe yesterday I found that motivation. I will tell you in 12 months!
See you at Longtoot on Friday. With salt sticks!