Mallorca 70.3 Ironman – May 10, 2014
When I joined T2A I thought all you Ironman people were off your heads. Why would you want to race for six or 12 hours straight? I was happy to train, compete in some local sprints then move up to the Olympic distance. Then one Saturday morning I got talking to Mike O’Brien after Hamdan. I said I didn’t think I’d manage an Ironman race and he replied with that Irish optimism that we Scots, a nation of pessimists, so adore. “You’re well able Marcella, you’ll be grand so.”
Also, I needed a challenge: I’m a housewife and there is not much sense of achievement in shaving two minutes off the school run. And while my three sons are the love of my life, the prospect of four whole days not being Mummy was appealing. Very appealing. So I signed up for Mallorca 70.3. I liked the timing of the race – the end of the good training weather here and perfect racing weather in Spain.
It was not until much later that I remembered Mike O’Brien is the nutter who took up triathlon and six months later raced Ironman Melbourne. By that time I was, as Bear Grylls says when he’s clinging to a rock face, committed. I spent the whole winter getting ready; two half marathons to get used to running 21 km, the ADIT short course, raced Olympic distance in all the local events, Jebel Hafeet camp and of course, the first commandment of T2A – Follow Thy Plan. All Of It.
As a result, I was not nervous the day before the race. I couldn’t wait to finish the damn thing and stop training all the time. I was more daunted with the prospect of building the bike myself in Mallorca. I had got the boys at Probike to explain it to me, but I still put the handlebars on back-to- front. I had forgotten my phone in the hotel so I couldn’t call in the cavalry (Anders and Andy). But I lucked out: a German and a Dutch guy helped me build it! Result!
Swim – 37:35
According to the organisers, Mallorca 70.3 was the largest half Ironman race in the world with 3,500 competitors. Almost a fifth of them were women, and all 630 of us were in the same wave. I met a Scottish girl and asked if she thought there would be less argie-bargie since we were all women and she laughed out loud. In the end, it was neither better nor worse than the usual bun fight – there were just an awful lot of people.
I’m a poor swimmer but I got a couple of classes with Coach in March that helped improve my stroke massively. I did a 2km TT in a wetsuit in Hamdan a week before the race and went 39.08 so I was hoping I’d get out of the water in around 40 mins. Coach had told me to think about everything he’d told me all the way round. When I try to go fast, I revert to a choppy, scrappy stroke that gets me nowhere.
There were massive orange buoys every 150m, so my dodgy sighting wasn’t an issue. As soon as I got some clear water, I just settled into going as long and strong as possible. Coach kept telling me I had to go slower to go faster. And of course he was right again.
So, wetsuits and I are not really on good terms. I had a bit of a fight getting it off but the other reason for the slow T1 was for some idiotic reason, I took my bag BACK to the hooks and hung it up rather than dumping it like we were told in the briefing. That will never happen again.
Bike – 3:03:46
There was a sports masseur setting up right by the cafe where I ate lunch the day before the race, so I sneaked in a massage. He told me the Sky team trained in the Alcúdia area every winter. You’d have thought by that point I’d have realised it was going to be a tricky ride, but no.
I knew there was going to be a climb, the graphic on the race pack from Ironman showed the difference from sea level to the top. But it didn’t show all the loopy bits. All started well, I overtook steadily on the first 20 km of flat and I continued to overtake quite a few women on the climb. But on the descent, I simply didn’t know how to handle it.
In skiing terms, it was as though I was descending in snowplough and everyone else was doing parallel turns. But it wasn’t the time to start taking chances. There was a newspaper report the next day of a competitor who was rescued by the fire services because he went off the edge and broke his collarbone. I’m not really surprised.
It was still hugely, massively enjoyable though. I changed gears more times on that bike course than in the previous 20 months. It was like what Edward Norton’s character said in Fight Club; it made me feel extremely alive. And the scenery, for those microseconds when I tore my eyes off the road, was spectacular.
The depressing part was that quite a few women whom I’d overtaken on the climb went sailing past me on the descent. That’s against the natural order of things. But after a while I thought, “f&&k it, there’s 40 km of flat when we got off this hill.” Once I got back on my happy hunting ground I did reclaim quite a few scalps, but not all of them.
T2 – 4:10
My father was a scout and one of his favourite expressions is ‘fail to prepare – prepare to fail’. I thought I had prepared for the transitions. I had identified landmarks for the bike rack, established where the bag was etc. But unlike Anders, I didn’t physically walk through the transition three times. (That’s the kind of person you want flying your plane).
As a result, when I came into ‘los boxes’ as the Spaniards call it, I went to the right-hand side. But, I’m embarrassed even writing this, I was coming in from the OPPOSITE end to the swim. When I realised my error I tried to duck under the racks but a marshal told me I had to go right round the bottom end or I wouldn’t trigger the chip.
Run – 1:50:31
Coming into the run, I knew I had two hours and a bit to kick out 21 km and still finish under six hours. The Garmin had been playing up before the race and it refused to click to ‘run’ in the auto-sport function so I had no pace date – just an aggregate time. I was in no condition to start calculating splits in my heads so I just tried to get into a good clip and hold it regardless.
I changed my running shoes about a fortnight before the race because they were worn out and giving me blisters. I replaced them with exactly the same size and model as the previous pair to avoid problems. I had a few teething problems on the first few outings but on my last taper run, everything seemed fine.
But when I started running, the whole front half of my feet were totally numb, like when it’s freezing cold in Al Qudra. So I tried to run on my tip toes to hammer it out. Robbie told me once that’s what he does when he wants to go faster so hey, couldn’t do any harm. It seemed to resolve itself around the 10 km mark.
Normally I get the shivers on the run but I had been extremely conscientious about nutrition and hydration on the bike so I felt ok up to the halfway mark. After that, I was in virgin territory: I had never run 21 km off the bike. I was throwing back the Coke like a teenager on the tequila but my legs were truly running on empty. The last 10 km were pretty tough; I just tried to catch a tail wind every time a guy came past whose pace I could roughly match and then grind down the kms.
When I crossed the finishing line I felt total euphoria, I almost hugged the poor volunteer who gave me my medal. It was a bit like when they hand you the baby at the end of labour; you totally forget the proceeding hours of pain. In fact, there were a couple of similarities. Firstly, you can’t delegate: it’s down to you to “deliver the project”. And secondly, regardless of how much it hurts you have to keep pushing.
This is my first Ironman event so I’ll try and keep this shorter than that speech Gwyneth Paltrow gave at the Oscars a few years back…
Thank you to platinum sponsor of Team Marciemoo, the other love of my life Diego de Miguel, who looked after the three Taliban operatives we engendered for four days while I was in Mallorca. Thanks also for the awesome tri bike you are going to buy me once I find it 🙂
Thank you to Coach, for believing I could meet new PBs when frankly I had my doubts, for ‘turning the screw’ every month, and for telling me not to sook when I was being a bit of a dag and whinging about my plan. And thank you to everyone in T2A for all the help, advice, support and encouragement. Who needs Google when you have an outstanding group of tri-geeks to consult? Especially Suzy Newton who is an inspiration, source of knowledge and pom pom person extraordinaire.