I was going into Ironman Barcelona 2016 with low expectations. After bike issues put paid to any chance of me reaching my time goal at Ironman Frankfurt, I was looking for a race that would give me a chance to 'put things right'. I wanted it to be this year (2016) and far enough from Frankfurt to allow for recovery, rebuild and taper again. I also wanted it to be a 'fast' bike course (as I have mashed up and down the hills at Ironman Wales before and that is certainly NOT fast!). Ironman Barcelona looked perfect.
I'm not sure if many people (if any) ever have a perfect Ironman race and build up. The nature of the sport is such that it puts our bodies, kit, work, relationships and most other life elements under serious pressure that something usually pops up to disrupt the flow. For me, it was the standard runners problem of injury. Pretty much straight after Frankfurt I picked up an achilles issue that simply didn't want to clear up. With Ironman Barcelona booked and paid for, I had a deadline that was rapidly approaching. My run training in the first month after Frankfurt was a constant cycle of run, wait for the achilles to recover, run, wait for the achilles to recover etc etc. I was in a cycle that was only going to lead to me either missing the race completely or hobbling around in pain. I decided to bite the bullet and drop run training and focus on run rehab work. Apart from two very short runs on an anti-gravity treadmill, I did no running in the build up to Barcelona. Not ideal.
On the kit side of things my bike too had issues. I raced a local club 25 mile time trial a couple of weeks after Frankfurt. Being in 'Ironman bike shape' I had a decent run and was pleased with the result (63 mins). However, I noticed towards the end of the ride that my gear changes had become very noisy and not the clean 'click' you expect from Di2. When I examined my bike I noticed that there was an unusual amount of flex in the rear mech hanger! A closer look confirmed the worst – the hanger was cracked. On normal bikes this wouldn't be an issue at all as most bikes have hangers that are removable and replaceable for exactly this reason. Not on my P5. Cervelo P5's hangers are part of the frame structure so effectively I had a crack in my carbon frame. I tried not to panic TOO much and took it in to my local bike shop The Cycle Studio in Stratford upon Avon (who also happen to be a Cervelo dealer). They looked at it and said they would see what they could do……
Matt, the manager from the Cycle Studio contacted Cervelo and asked about arranging a warranty exchange. Cervelo frames come with a lifetime warranty so if you suffer a frame failure they should swap it for a new one PROVIDED they are happy with the circumstances. If they suspect you have damaged the frame through neglect or during a crash, you will not be covered (which is fair enough). As it happens I had crashed on this bike during Challenge Almere, but that was back in 2014 and I had ridden the bike A LOT since then. My hanger crack was not caused during that crash. Cervelo asked for photos of the hanger, which Matt duly sent. This was where the problem started. Cervelo spotted a scratch on the side of my rear mech. In simple terms because they could see some of the black paint had been scratched off the mech they simply said that they would not exchange as I had damaged it. I responded and pleaded my case but they wouldn't budge, it wasn't going to happen.
After failing on the potential warranty exchange side of things, I started to get really worried. Already several more weeks had passed and I had no bike. I was training on my road bike, which was better than nothing but was hardly the race specific training I would usually want to do.
I was worried my frame was going to have to be ditched and P5 frames don't come cheap! I went back to Matt at the Cycle Studio and asked about carbon repair specialists. I had seen evidence of some of the magic these carbon specialists can perform, rebuilding snapped top tubes and seat stays – surely a little hanger would be a cinch!? Anyway, to cut a long story short, they said they could do it and within 48hrs the bike was dismantled and they had the frame. To fix the hanger they opened the crack, injected some glue and bonded it shut. To give it extra strength they also bonded an extra plate of carbon fibre over the hanger. The cost? £125. Amazing!
The frame was then returned to the cycle studio for a rebuild, which was done swiftly. I thought I was 'back in the game'. The race was now 5 weeks away so still time for some lengthy training rides. Next problem. Cervelo P5's come with hydraulic brakes made by Magura. In the process of removing the brakes when the bike was dismantled the little bleed screws that keep the hydraulic fluid in place became damaged. "No problem! Get new screws!" I thought. No such luck. It transpired that Magura no longer had any parts outlet in the UK and they weren't answering emails! I was starting to panic again. I got the impression the guys at the Cycle Studio were at a loss as to what else they could do to source the parts so I decided to take up the hunt myself. Knowing the power of social media, I decided to appeal to Magura via their Twitter account. Within 2hrs they had replied! With a few messages back and forth, we had things sorted. Someone would be calling me. Within a day I got a call from the Magura UK rep and better still he had some of the spares I needed in his car. Better than that, he was driving past my junction of the M40 later that day!! Within further 48hrs I had the parts, got them to the Cycle Studio who fitted them, and I had my bike back!!
With only 2 weeks left until race day I now only had time for one long ride. This went well, the bike felt fine (after a few minor tweaks) and I was happy.
So. After little to no run training and very little specific bike training (on my race bike anyway), like I said, my expectations were low.
Pre-race build up. Traveling etc
Firstly Ironman Barcelona isn't in Barcelona, it's in a resort further east along the coast in a town called Calella. To give you an idea how far, it's just short of 2hrs on the train. I got the 6:40 Monarch flight from Birmingham and was in Calella by 10ish Spanish time. I had checked the train times so knew they ran frequently so if I missed any it wouldn't be an issue. Once at Barcelona airport it was simple to follow the train signs to the airport station and it was an easy 10 minute walk even with a suitcase and bike box (both have wheels). I hadn't pre-booked any tickets so I knew I was going to have to figure that out when I got there. This turned out to be super simple, the English speaking ticket guy issued me it's my ticket to Calella and it was only €5!
The trains run every 30 minutes and I managed to get the first one I was aiming for at 10:30ish. It was a 10 minute journey to Sants and there was plenty of room for me and my luggage/bike. Once at Sants I had 15 minutes to find the next train to Blanes, Calella was on that line. I found the platform (8) and the train arrived bang on time. Again, plenty of room for me and my kit. The train journey to Calella was really nice as it travels right alongside the coast so all you have on the one side of the train is the sea. On the other side was the N11 road which forms 90% of the bike course, so this gave me a good look at how flat it was, road surface etc (as much as I could see sitting on a train!). The course as expected looked fast and flat. The sea also looked quite calm with only a little chop and no white caps.
Once in Calella I decided to get a taxi the 2k or so to the hotel. I couldn't be bothered walking all that way dragging my kit, especially as I wasn't sure of the way. €10 and 10minutes later I was at the 'Olympic Hotel' – haha! yeah right! Basically the Olympic was one of those mega-hotels built decades ago for the package holiday boom. It was huge and very tired and sad looking. The first thing I thought was "I'm glad Lis (my wife) isn't here. She would not stay here!" BUT, I booked this knowing full well what to expect. It was for me only, only for a few nights and I didn't want to pay much. It was €100 for three nights. The hotel staff were pleasant and courteous when I checked in. I asked the about breakfast (I had booked room only), and for €10 I could add breakfast for 3 mornings! I wasn't expecting the breakfast to be up to much!!
My room was exactly as expected. Basic. It was old, dated, shabby, wherever you want to call it, but it was clean and it would do me. There was room to build the bike and the wifi worked! The wifi was free for 15 minutes which allowed me to test whether I wanted to actually pay for longer access and to to my surprise it was pretty quick. I then paid €10 for three days Internet use. I built my bike, which was straightforward and uneventful (which is always a relief if you ask anyone who travels regularly with their bike!). I wasn't expecting much from the dodgy looking shower but it was fine. It worked and it was hot :)
As this was a whistle-stop race trip, I wanted to get everything done in terms of registering, expo (needed CO2) and general sussing out on the Friday I arrived. This would give me the whole of Saturday to rest and chill (apart from the briefing and bike check-in). The registration area and expo were together and on Calella beach just 10-15 minutes walk from the hotel. Registration was easy and straightforward. Thankfully I had remembered both my British Triathlon membership card AND passport for ID (you can use your driving licence too). I scanned around the 'Ironman Fan' shop and opted not to buy any of the overpriced kit. I also scanned along the expo stands, bought my CO2 and headed back to the hotel. All very simple.
I then went out for a ride to test the bike out and get a feel for the N11. A simple 20 mins out and back confirmed that the bike was ok, the road surface was good and that it was flattish. I say 'ish' because the N11 has some 'rises' as you leave Calella. You couldn't really call them hills but it was certainly not pan flat. It was quite windy with some gusts coming from south to north (off the sea) which made the front wheel twitch a bit at times (riding a Zipp 808 front and disk rear). It should be calmer on race day. It was also hot at around 26 degrees. I must admit being a little concerned about my head getting hot in my black Kasc bambino helmet as the venting is minimal. Nothing I can do about it now and it is looking a little cooler on race day.
The Day before Race Day (Saturday)
I didn’t have a huge amount planned for this day as I wanted pretty much a full day of rest. At past Ironman events I have spent too long wandering the venues and expo and felt this can take its toll come race day. The English race briefing was scheduled for 10am so I wandered down from the Olympic Hotel and got there about 9:55. I had intentionally left it a little late hoping that everyone will have already entered and found their seats, I could then sneak in and watch from the back. No such luck, there was a HUGE queue. The issue with the English briefing is that virtually everyone speaks English! This meant that rather than waiting for their briefing in their native tongue, everyone just pitched up to the english one. It was rammed! Eventually everyone filed in and the briefing started 20 mins late. The briefing itself was pretty standard with nothing out of the ordinary as far as I can remember.
My race number was 1781 so my bike racking time was 16:00-18:00. I didn’t want to wait that late in the day to rack so I decided to risk it and pitch up at T1 as soon as it opened at 2pm. Past experience told me that they don’t make people stick to their allotted check-in times, they are more for guidance than anything. T1 was at the other end of Calella, about 2k further along the beach. The bike racking area itself was on a synthetic football pitch so it was super flat and clean. It was really easy to find my bike ‘slot’ and all the racks were clearly marked. One thing I did think when I saw the racking was that it was a little high. It was so high that when I hung my bike by its saddle, the front wheel was 4-5 inches off the ground! This wouldn’t usually be that much of a problem but it was quite gusty and my position happened to be right by the legs of the racking. I didn’t want my bike to be bashing off the legs for the next 18hrs so I decided to prop the bike against the legs rather than hang it. Due to the heat (it was about 26 degrees) I decided to deflate my tyres a little and then left the bike for the night.
I had already prepared my BIKE and RUN bags so I then headed over to the large transition tent to hang my bags ready for race-day. The transition tent has large, clean and well set-up. Having done plenty of split-transition races in the past, this was a dream! I hung my bangs on my numbered hook and then headed out for a recce of the routes I would be taking on the day. I made sure I was sure of the route I would be taking from the water up to the transition tent and my bags. Then the route from the tent to my bike and out to the mount line. It was all nice and straight forward. I then headed back to the hotel to eat, rest and prepare my nutrition for the race (I like to be pretty much self sufficient in terms of nutrition rather than using on-course products).
Ironman Barcelona has an unusually civilised start time of 8:20 for age-groupers (8:10 for pros). This meant I didn’t have to get up until 5:30 rather than the ungodly 3am like usual. I had a simple breakfast of wholemeal bread and jam. At around 6:30 I started the 20 minute walk to T1 so got there around 7ish. Transition closed at 8am so I had plenty of time to check my bike, get changed and warm up. When I arrived at my bike I found that someone had hung it up by its saddle. I also found that the front tyre was completely flat! I knew I had let some air out of the tyres the previous day but this was ‘proper flat’ so now I was worried about whether I had a puncture. As I had an hour to play with I decided to pump the tyres up and see if I could detect any ‘softening’ as the hour went by. They seemed to be fine so I decided to leave them. I loaded up the bike with my nutrition (750ml bottle of Isogel and water mix) and attached my bike computer. I then got changed into my wetsuit and dumped my white street bag before heading down to the warm-up area.
The swim warm up area was to the left of the rolling start boxes and start arch. I made my way into the sea only for my goggle strap to come away from my goggles! I have literally NEVER had this happen before so I swore at my luck and started to figure out what I was going to do. I use baby oil on my wetsuit so I can remove it easier. It turned out that I had got oil onto the goggle straps and they had simply slipped out of their fastening. A quick bit of rubbing and repositioning had then back in place – so glad they hadn’t snapped! I did a quick 5 minutes or so warm up and felt great. The water temperature was perfect at 22.5 degrees and it was calm.
I then made my way to the rolling start boxes. I was anticipating a swim of around 1:06-1:08 so intended to go into the 1:05 pen and look for someone to draft. For some reason I could only see 50:00, 60:00, 1:20:00 (and slower). No 1:10:00 and certainly no 1:05:00 so I decided to head for the front of the 1:20:00! After hanging around in the 1:20 pen thinking about whether this was the right choice I spotted 1:05:00 right over at the other side! I headed over just in time for the race start.
The Swim – 1:11:17
The Ironman Barcelona swim course is a single loop sea swim of 3.8k. You swim directly out for 300m before making a 90 degree right turn and swimming a straight 1750m. You then make another 90 degree right turn, swim 100m before turning 90 degrees right again to head back along the long straight for 1450m. Finally, you make a 90 degree left turn before swimming 200m back to the finish. The swim was uneventful until I made the right turn at the far end of the course to head back along the 1450m straight. By this point the wind had picked up and there was more chop. Although not excessive, the chop of the water combined with the glare of the rising sun made sighting very difficult. There were long periods where I was unable to pick out any buoys or sighting landmarks. I was forced at times to rely on other swimmers for guidance. In terms of pacing the swim I felt fine and easy. I was swimming at around 1:45/100m pace which was bang on where I wanted it. When I ended the swim I was disappointed to see 1:11 and 4100m - it seemed that I had managed to swim around 300m extra. *I notice from the IM results they have put the swim at 3.9k so at least that accounts for some of it!
T1 – 4:46
Swim to Bike was pretty uneventful apart from being unusually unsteady on my feet. I think the amount of extra lifting to sight I had been doing combined with the swell/chop had thrown my balance out. By the time I had changed into my bike gear I was fine and the unsteadiness had cleared.
Bike – 5:03:54
I had been really looking forward to this bike ride. Always, training and racing with power, I pretty much knew what time to expect provided nothing out of the ordinary happened. I was looking to hold around 210w for 5 hours which equated to around 3w/kg. This power to weight ratio should usually get you a top-end age-group position and I knew this would be pretty comfortable for me. Within 5 miles my power meter reading disappeared from my Garmin. I had been having a few issues with it in the lead up to race-day but I thought I had sorted it out. Typical. Confident I had the correct perceived effort level ‘dialled in’ I decided to push on and not investigate whether I could fix the meter. Disappointed I wouldn’t have the power data for later review, I was still happy I crack on. I also still had heart rate data as a back-up to judge things on.
The Ironman Barcelona Bike course is not ‘flat’. It has around 3000ft of climbing but this is obviously thinly spread throughout the course. Provided you have a kind wind you can hold speed well and the road surfaces are good. On race day there was a low but steady wind blowing away from Calella giving a nice tail wind on the way out. On the way back I was surprised at how much this now head wind pulled down the average speed. It was by no means windy in the usual sense of the word but due to the long, straight and open nature of the course, I felt it certainly had an impact on the way back towards town. Also, new for 2016 was a climb up to Argentona. Again, not a big proper climb as such, more of an annoying seemingly endless drag!
In previous years this race has suffered a lot from riders traveling in large drafting packs. The course has been altered to try to reduce this and in the main I think it has worked. The only time I saw much definite drafting was on the return leg of the second lap. I got caught in a group of around 6 riders who were clearly working together. Constantly speeding up and slowing down they certainly affected my ability to hold a steady effort on the way back to Calella. I made a few surges to try to break clear of the group but they would pull me back in each time. So annoying.
T2 – 3:34
Uneventful really. I took the time to put clean fresh socks on….I think I knew I was going to want the comfort for what was to come!
Run – 4:57:42 (ouch!)
I felt ok for the first few miles. Things then quickly changed. I had started to feel sick and it was a feeling I recognised from a previous race. In simple terms I couldn’t take in any nutrition. Whenever I tried I wretched and felt terrible. I even tried to quickly gulp some gel and water simultaneously so I didn’t taste the gel in my mouth but as soon as it hit my stomach it came back up. I knew that I wasn't ‘overcooked’ from the effort on the bike as I knew I had ridden this within my capabilities. When I had felt this way previously it was when my body had effectively stopped processing the gels and they were sitting in my stomach. I had no option other than to press on and only take on water. The run very much became a run-walk before becoming a walk-run and finally pretty much a walk/walk! I knew very early on that my time (and only) goal was gone and my only objective then was to finish the race and get another ‘tick’ towards a potential Ironman legacy place. The crowds on the course were amazing as they always are, shouting “come on” and “you can do it” etc. If only they knew just how terrible you feel at this point – I think you really have to go there yourself to realise. Anyway, I eventually staggered over the line and promptly collapsed.
I spent the next couple of hours or so in the medical tent being very well looked after by some great medical staff. Once a drip and a metal blanket had been administered to me, I started to feel reasonably human again and I decided to ‘check out’.
The time was now 10pm. At 7:30am the following morning I had to be on the train back towards the airport, so I had a lot to do to get ready before then! All I wanted to do was sleep! As I had traveled to Barcelona alone I had no alternative other than to stagger from the medical tent back along the 2k seafront to T1/2 to collect my bags and bike. It felt like the longest walk of my life! I eventually got there, collected all my gear and gently peddled back to the hotel. I couldn’t face dismantling my bike straight away so fell into bed at midnight with the alarm set for 4am to dismantle my bike and pack! The next day, I did eventually make it home with my bike, kit and in one piece – but so tired, so very tired.
Ironman Barcelona was certainly an adventure! Despite all the issues I had personally both during the build up to the race and on race day itself, this is a great race. I have done 8 Iron-distance events now including 6 that are Ironman branded. I would say Barcelona is my favorite so far. The race was well organised, the venues clean and spacious. Transitions were simple and stress free (both checking in/out and during the race). The start time is SO civilised! The town of Calella was welcoming and many of the shops, bars and hotels embraced the event. Traveling to Barcelona (and then onto Calella) was cheap and simple. The weather was perfect, being warm but not oppressively so.
I will be returning next year.
I hope you found this blog interesting and possibly even useful. If you have any specific questions about the race or my experiences please feel free to comment. Maybe see you out there!