Simon Marshall, GBR

Simon Marshall, GBR
Place in AG: // Finish time: 11:40:xx
Swim: 1:16:xx // T1: tbc // Bike: xx:xx:xx // T2: tbc // Run: xx:xx:xx

Coach’s remarks: Grab one of those No-Doze stay awake pills from the pharmacy team, Marshall has gone long haul here. I love it and see Sime, the island has powers ha, the magnetic fields of Jeju sent your Electronic Dureace into a spasm. Great read as always mate, thanks for this

Race Report – 03 July 2011 – Ironman South Korea, Jeju Island, South Korea
featuring Capt Carl, Suzi Q, Ed, Benny, Aya, Milan and Craig

Well, it has been a little while since I have written one of these, but I think this race deserves a little note for posterity’s sake. I’ll begin in classic tradition by jumping in somewhere near the start. A warning, this does go on a bit, skip to the bike bit for a laugh or else best to read with coffee.

Jeju is a beautiful volcanic rock to the west of South Korea, famed for it’s high winds, high humidity, highly unpredictable race conditions and hot temperatures – nice eh? Jeju is also a 4,000 year old hotbed of druid philosophy and has a deep spiritual power. Coach was radicalised sometime during his pro racing days when he was in Jeju, to this day you’ll hear him talking about the mystical powers of Jeju and the respect that must been given to the Island – has anyone seen Lost? The seven T2A Jejuites had been given this mantra solidly for the past 6 weeks, we were to expect hell, anything less than this would be a disappointment.

I’ll be honest, going into the race I felt good, I’ve been doing this triathlon thing for nearly 3 years now, I’ve got 3 IMs under my belt and have a reasonable idea of what I can do, where my body is at and what to expect from a race. For me, I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in and was even swimming well. It’s no secret I switched from Denmark to Korea to chase a Kona slot. With the additional slot allocation from the cancelled events in China and Japan I had a good shot.

Anyway, enough of the background, lets get down to brass tacks. You’ll most likely have seen some of the footage from the practice days (if not check out FB for Suzi Q productions) everything seemed to be ok, sea a little bumpy, bike a little hilly and windy – oh yes, did I mention there was some humidity? After the bike practice (and I’m talking less than 20k) we were dripping wet – it wasn’t that hot, but the air was just heavy and laden with moisture.

We had a nice few days leading into the race, I did everything properly, lists checked, double checked and triple checked. Kit out 2 days before the race, text book. We all booked ourselves on the “first 90 come, first 90 served bike course familiarisation bus tour” – the unique feature of this bus tour was that it was conducted in real time – it actually took us just under 3 hours to get round the 90k loop – the other standout point from this tour was that a large proportion of the course generally uphill with a few sharp downhills. The sharp downhills seemed to be a point of some mirth and entertainment for my fellow T2A racers, anyone who has ridden Hatta with me will know that I’m ok going uphill, but can be passed by just about anyone once you get to the other side!

The bus also allowed us to see some of the roads we would be riding, 2/3rds of the course was on pretty good dual carriageway, the other 1/3rd was back streets through the land the time forgot. I’m not kidding, this southern most volcanic outcrop of Jeju Island looked like God had simply forgotten to finish it. The landscape was pure fiction, a soupy fog rising from the black vocanic rock and primeval muddy ouze whilst being lapped by a prehistoric virgin sea.

Despite all this, I thought it would be my kind of bike course, not steep enough for me lose that much time downhill and plenty of uphill sections that would work to my benefit.

Check In

For the first race that I can remember, I was determined to get everything checked in early. This was undoubtedly helped by Capt Carl and Ed, both of whom wanted there stuff done early too. We’d got our 15’s out of the way early doors, there were rumours that the bus transport for the bikes was simply putting them in the luggage space beneath the bus, I wasn’t going to risk anything going wrong with the bike (how funny that sounds writing this now!!!), so I opted to ride down there with Suz.

Usual formalities of the mechanic bike check – I use the word mechanic, but “thug” would be more appropriate. The check consisted of either thug 1 or thug 2 trying to break the bike. He basically put as much weight and force as humanly possible to move the extensions on the base bar – had they been integrated aerobars, he’d have just got a hammer to make sure they moved. Anyway, I grabbed an allen key and they are now bloody tight and even thug 1 could not move them.

The rest of checkin was smooth, it was difficult to see where how T1 worked as it was not quite finished. Anyway, plenty of time tomorrow.

Race Day

I had an early night, in bed by 9:30pm and slept well. I was in two minds whether to get the first bus up to the race start, but thought what the hell, half an hour extra in bed isn’t going to make any difference, so got the first bus with the rest of the gang. The bus journey had the usual mix of unspoken tension, nerves and aprehension etched on people’s faces. You have to experience one of these journeys to a race to know what I mean, anyone who has done a long distance event knows those thoughts going through each others head – what is going to happen, will I make it, what have I forgotten, is my nutrition right, what happens if my gears stop working…

I pass the time by texting coach, as usual he’s up and responding – must be midnight in DXB time. Tell him I’ve got a bit of dodgy throat, he says man-up. I’m now on on anti-biotics with a good batch of Marsh-Flu.

The bus arrives and we are the first there. There is a rewarding feeling about being in transition before the hoards arrive, its a slightly smug feeling. I find body marking and get someone who has obviously just finished her MBA in Caligraphy – numbers marked to perfection.

One thing I haven’t said is that during the briefing they announced that drinks would be in normal gatorade bottles – now I’m a front loading torpedo man, my main drink bottle is a horizontal water cage mounted between the areobars, removing the bottle and having to refill with a plastic bottle in my mind was a recipe for disaster. I therefore bought an areo bottle and bracket at the expo and had that to fit race morning. It took me about 15mins to get it all on correctly, happy days! I unracked the bike to check the height of the straw, put my hands on the right brake lever that proceeded to spin freely around inside the aerobar. Hmm, perhaps the Jeju spirits are at work? No worries, I have plenty of time to fix it.

55 mins until T1 closes. I look at the brake and realise I need a slightly smaller phillips screwdriver than I have to take the brake housing off. I manage to find a mechanic about 10 mins later with the appropriate screwdriver – two screws out, shit now a third one…oh great, it’s a torx head – Shimano, why??? The mechnic doesn’t have a torx driver, hmm…time is now starting to move on – what to do? The mechnic says how about taping it up, this is not a particularly useful idea, but nevertheless it is stored in the mental melting pot as a last resort.

45 mins until T1 closes. One thing that triathletes are noted for is a love of kit and being prepared, therefore someone is bound to have a torx driver – maybe they did, but my Korean is not fluent.

35 mins until T1 closes. What do i see before me, is this a gift from the spirits? On the edge of T1 is a sign that reads “private mechanic for hire” – and he has tools!!! I make a beeline for that wonderful Korean chap and briefly explain I need a torx driver, not only does he have tools, but he understands their English names, oh thank the sainted spirits!!! I beetle off back to the bike, take out the remaining screw only to be greeted by a mass of springs – this is just the switches, not how they are tighted on to the aerobars.

30 mins until T1 closes. I go back to the mechanic, he has a Di2 bike on his work stand, I ask him if he is familiar with the brakes and explain the problem, sure he does, it will take 20 mins to fix – that gives me 5 mins leeway before T1 closes. Ok, time to roll the dice, I take the bike out of transition, the guy removes the front brake cable completely, tightens up the brake mounting, rethreads the cable and sets the brake back up. I can now say with experience that seeing your bike going through open surgery 15 mins before T1 closes is not a calming feeling. I check the gears, they have stopped working on the brake side, but are fine on the aerobars – no problem, it will work.

I take the bike back to transition, borrow a pump and check the tires, say a prayer to the Jeju spirits and get out of T1 as its closing. T-minus 30 mins to race start.

The PRD queue is massive, as is my requirement. I find a little hotel behind the official facilities and go through the ritual there. Put my wetsuit on and drop off my swim bag.

Race start 10 mins. I find the rest of my fellow Jejuites, this is the first I have seen of them since we arrived 2 hours earlier.

Swim – 1:16

T-minus 2 mins standing on the beach. I’m with Milan and Aja, I figure I’ll try and stay on Milan’s feet for as long as possible, he’s aiming for 68-70 mins, if I can stay with him for a lap, that will be great. The gun goes off, hell for leather sprint to the water, jesus mother of god, this is warfare, I’ve been in some vicious swim starts but this is carnage. 10m in a fist in my face, 15m in I’m used as a springboard, 25m in my goggles gone on right eye. I think this will ease off after 300m, but no, at the 500m bouy I’m still being used as gymnastic spring board and punch bag. I’m fighting, kicking and punching back as well, but this destroys my rhythm and is ultimately non-productive. 1k into the swim and these bastards are still kicking the shit out of me, really not enjoying the swim at this point. Thankfully after 1500m things calm down, maybe this is because I am taking a typical Marshall line, being closer to the international shipping lanes than the course ropes, but I need to regroup. Out of the water, the first lap in 36mins, despite all the crap I’m actually on target. This next lap has to be a bit quicker without the agro. Much less uneventful, but my navigation is woeful, must have ended up swimming 200-300m long on the course over the two laps, dreadful. Second lap was 4 mins slower than the first, unacceptable.

T1

Exit the swim in 1:16. Not a great start, but cheered mildly by Benny saying the pro’s swam slow – cheers Benny, pros may have been slow, but it seems everyone else was fine. Transition was not the best, unsure of where I’m going, no clear path and no time to do a recon beforehand with the bike problem. Change into bike gear, run to bike, grab it and go.

Bike – 6:13

I’m in the right gear out of T1 and have just hit the first hill, go to change down and no gears at all – WTF? Ok, think, think…right, ok, check battery – ahh… mechanic had unplugged battery before doing brakes, click it back in and away we go. Usual story on the bike, already making good progress through the field up the hill, first 3km of climbing great, hit the downhill and get some speed up and hit the next hill, climbing well. I go to change down a gear. Lots of up and down gear crunching, then nothing. I try the shifters on the brakes, nothing and again the shifters on the aerobars, nothing. The phrase rhymes with Duck.

Ok, it could be worse, I’m stuck in the middle of my rear cassette, with a working front derailleur at least I have two viable options, if I had to be stuck in a gear, I would choose this one, so it could be worse.

It is worse, the rear derailleur throws another hissy fit and this time sticks in what will be its final resting place, largest cog on the rear cassette. The front works, but what use is that? Small chainring with largest cog at the back means you are just spinning aimlessly. I’m 5k into the bike, it now starts to dawn on me that I have 175k to do in a single gear. To rub a little bit of salt into the wound, that gear combination is at the opposite extremes for the chain ring and the cassette, not only do I have 175k in one gear, but at that gear the chain is at the greatest angle and is rubbing making that lovely metal on metal sound. It’s like being interrogated in Gitmo. Duck, duck, duck!

I’m in new territory, battling very hard to stay with people that I would expect to be ahead of. The next 50k is rolling hills, think Bab Al Shams style of road. The situation is comical. My riding strategy has had to change, I work my arse off up the hills, overtake a bunch of people going up, then at the top I pedal downhill as much as I can until about I hit 35kmh, at this point I’m doing 130rpm and run out of leg speed. The people I have just overtaken going up the hill then come past me gently turning over a big gear whilst I’m coasting down until speed drops to 31/32k and I can start consistently pedaling at 110-120 rpm again. This continues for the next hour and a half. I’m still in touch with people, but ducking hell, this is hard work.

We hit the big hill for the first time, it’s about 6 or 7km long and a 6-8% gradient. This is where I can make some time up and attack the hill. I’m out of the saddle, mashing away, power output is high, but I know on the other side I’ll be forced to rest. There is absolutely nothing I can do, my down hill speed is soley determined by gravity and wind resistance, I have no input into the equation. It’s nice to be finally making some progress, but I’d be lying if it wan’t hard pushing a big ring up there. I pick off a number of people, but it’s like trying to hold back the sea, they’ll just get me going back down, still, small victories.

After we reach the turnaround point, slowly but surely they all come past. I rejoin the road and head off with the same comical pattern as before. At 60k or so i’m getting a little brassed off with the whole affair, I start thinking about how I can fix this, my best possible bike time on this course is now looking at being a little over 6 hours. There is one thing I can try. Di2 has two sets of switches, therefore if its the Di2 switches that are the problem, I can cross wire the aero front deraillieur switches and have the front derailieur controlled by the brake switches and the rear controlled by the aero switches. It’s a long shot and will take 6 or 7 mins to try, but I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I pull over to the side of the road just before the first timing mat turnaround and strip down the aerobars. There is bar tape and electrical tape everywhere. I get to the wiring connections, reverse eveything, cross my fingers, but it doesn’t work.

I set of again and crossed the timing mat to hear a cheerful voice in broad lancastrian say – “Ere, Marshall, you had a shocker or what?”, bless Suzie Q – we cross the timing mat together. We have a brief chat and to be fair to Suz, she exhibited some stunning bike handling in managing to keep control of her bike whilst pissing herself as I explained my predicament. I set off up the road with my spinning legs going at 130 rpm to the echo of her laughter.

Not much left to say other than it was the most soul destroying ride I’ve ever had. Did I want to quit, well only about once per kilometer. You tend to think that being stuck in that gear will rest your legs, I thought I’d maybe be able to run a 3:20 of it and still do sub-11, it became evident towards the end of the ride, that not only had I fried my legs from the constant surging and stupid cadence, but the high cadence had also messed up my lower back.

For those of you with a technical nature, my maximum cadence was 186 rpm and despite having nothing to push against I averaged 197 watts, peaking at 800 watts with an average cadence of over 100.

T2

Had a great T2, I was so fired up to be off the damn bike, I still thought I could run a quick marathon and get a decent time.

Run – 4:02

The first lap started well, bolted out of T2 down a steep downhill before climbing for about 3k. I’d bagged my gels and salt tabs to make T2 quicker, so loaded up my pockets as I was going down the first hill. It was hot, very hot. I took on sponges at each aid station and kept running hard. I started to pass the people that had over taken me on the bike when I originally stopped to try and repair the gear shifters – a nice feeling. I was surprised at how up and down the run course was, this was not going to be easy an easy one.

About 7k in I saw Aja coming back on her first lap closely followed by Milan. I knew she’d had an absolute stormer, what’s more she looked very strong, Milan didn’t look so happy. I was running well at this point I thought that maybe I could put together a 3:20 to 3:30 – could I bring this back to a sub 11? I went through the first 10k in 50 minutes and feeling hot, but ok.

At the first turn around it was wonderful, wind in your face and so cooling after the heat of the first 10k out section. I continued running well with steady 5:15s on the second part of the run leg. It was towards the end of the first loop I had my first low point as I passed Carl. This was something I was simply not expecting and if you can share someones pain, then I truly did at this point as I knew his Kona dreams were gone for this race. I’d last seen him about 20k up the road just after the end of my first bike lap, I’d reckoned on him being 1:15-1:20 ahead. Things had therefore gone badly wrong if I was seeing him now. I offered a few words of encouragement as much as you can at this stage of the race.

The course continued to climb and climb finally cresting before a steep downhill section leading to the second lap. No clear markings on the course and I started running the wrong way until the Marshall woke up and directed me down the right track. I went through the 21k split in 1:48. I was pleased with this and still feeling ok, although it was now clear I wasn’t going to break 11 hours, but maybe I could salvage a good run.

The next 5k was dark and soon sorted out any lingering aspirations. Firstly I’d taken coke at the last aid station and was now having excrutiating acid burn that mean’t a couldn’t run the downhill properly. Next the exertion on the bike leg finally caught up with me as I hit the first steep uphill section. Lastly, mentally everything suddenly crashed around me. I think the realisation of my own race finally hit home. This was going to be a bad day and I still had the best part of two hours left to go.

Something strange happened next, I’d just crested the steep uphill section when a bus pulled up next to me, for some reason I found myself thinking, “ahh, they’re pulling people of the course, I can finally stop” – of course the bus was just pulling over for traffic, but its weird how the mind plays tricks on you.

I was still running 5:30s, but stopping and shuffling through each aid station, I’d lost my drive, finishing was now the goal, not time. I saw Ed coming back on his final lap, this lifted me as he was clearly on for a good time and likely slot. I have to be honest though, as well as lifting me, it’s bloody hard knowing that I had hoped to be somewhere close to him, but this is triathlon, it’s not mean’t to be easy and you have bad days.

At this point I also need to extend my apologies to a couple of Korean woman. I’d just had a GU and proceeded to empty my stomach and wretch repeatedly. I sat down at the side of the road and had a couple of medical people come over and ask me if I was ok to run? I said I was fine and just needed a minute, well 4 to be accurate. When I was running I was still hitting 5:30’s, but I was taking longer and longer through the aid stations and time was just slipping away.

The run back was a pure sufferfest, I was bloody freezing, my heart rate was around 110 bpm and I was in a world of pain, I knew every part of the road I had left and it was a slow journey. The feeling of cresting the final hill before the 1k downhill section was beautiful, I’d started to warm up again over the last few k, I grabbed two sponges and started running for home. Turning the last corner to the finish shoot, the guy next to me, said “C’mon lets give them a show, what have you got left?” – I answered with a muffled “arrhhgg” but he started sprinting and so did I. I thought he was getting ahead but I heard Benny, Ed and Noelene shouting “Go Marshie!!” – that gave me what I needed, I found another gear, kicked and got him by a few seconds. Best part of the race, finish and a shout out on IronmanLive.

Finishing time 11:40

There are always things you take away from races, they’ll be a bit of a post mortem on this, I screwed up some nutrition along the way and that hurt me on the second half of the marathon. The bike, well there is obviously a problem there, I’ll find out what the issue is a resolve it. I still maintain Di2 is incredible, a snapped cable could have given someone exactly the same problem on a standard setup.

Finally, I need to give a big congratulations to Ed and Aja on their slots, they trained and raced hard, fully deserving those coveted slots. Equally deserved are Benny and Craig’s Vegas slots (i’ll see you there). Also a big thank you to everyone on the trip, as ever a wonderful bunch of people to go on holiday with, traveling with this sport is not easy and the group makes it so much more fun and enjoyable!

Apologies for this being a long report, but you learn much more from the bad ones than the good ones!

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