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IRONMAN Barcelona 2019 – Darren Cranston


Blood sweat but no tears (this time)

Setting the scene
Ironman no 9. Last year me and my buddy (Fran). We did Roth and Copenhagen in 2018 with our target being to go sub 10, and sure we decided to do two in 7 weeks cause that will give us two go’s at it.

So I have a race report for the first 7 Ironman races I did. There was always a drama with someone on these, from cancelled flights in Roth, car troubles and needing to be towed in Austria, to one of our group ending up upside down in a taxi in Dublin airport and missing Barcalona 2016. Many funny (with hindsight) memories. There was no race report for 2018. The best description of the Roth/Copenhagen double was non eventful (and sometimes that’s a good thing). I went 10.39 and 10.42 respectively and suffered on the bike in both. Roth run was great and probably the best I had ever felt in run for a 3.49 run (not quickest time but negative split and just in the zone).

For Copenhagen I had back issues – stiff as anything which wrecked my bike. Got a load of abuse from Fran when he passed me on the bike in Copenhagan after about 110km – I was feeling very sorry for myself and sitting up. That spurred me on to dip just under 5.30 on a course which is faster than that. I guess he repaid me for giving him a bit of encouragement in Roth on the run! The run in Copenhagan is brilliant – it is very twisty but right in the centre of the City and the support is superb. My back was causing big issues but after 12k I took a nurofen and it freed it up after and then it became an enjoyable run (in a weird way)- just over 4 hours. Swim in both was solid – 56/57mins. The best criac was the next day in Copenhagen which was spent in the Bastard Cafe with the other half’s. An unforgettable afternoon/evening!!

Anyhow – we both missed sub 10 and on reflection the training just wasn’t there to warrant it so I twisted Fran’s arm into Barca 2019 – fast course, we had done it in 2016 where he went 10.02 and I had picked up a bug race week and fell apart 7k into the run to do a c10.50. In short we both had an axe to grind with this race.

So to expand a bit on my Barca 2016 experience (I have a heart wrenching race report somewhere for anyone who is interested  . I was in great shape. Picked up a bug Sunday before the race. I had trimmed down to c68Kg – never been lighter but also training well. Sunday night and Monday all day – it wasn’t pretty. Tuesday not great either – Wednesday – I weigh 65kg. Can’t hold anything down. Get on the plane to Barca on Thursday and pretend its all good. Still not eating properly. Got skinnier but didn’t want to know how skinny. Didn’t adjust the plan and did a 56 swim, 5.11 bike. 7k into the run – empty. Suffered like a dog – there are pictures of me running/walking with tears rolling down my face (not a great look). I eventually found my ‘why am I doing this’ and finished it out in a 10.50 (ish). Probably shouldn’t have started but proud of digging deep and finishing – I will (and have) used the feeling and how I got out of the hole I was in to good effect in future races – really mentally challenging!

So on to 2019 – both of us back to Barca and both aiming to break 10. My training starts about March as I hurt my back and it took ages to sort it. My birthday present from my wife for my 40th was a little mini cycling camp in Mallorca in April with Fran and another friend (Dave) which was really tough but a 200km day really sets up the training when we come back. Great little trip.

Training Approach
I had decided that given my training was more compressed (I didn’t start until March) my approach would be to do lots on the turbo and make it really race specific. Run lots of steady miles (c40k per week) and swim once or twice a week. That basically is what I did. Lots of 4 hour turbos and 2 five hour ones. Most were quality though. Zwift is great and these are great mental sessions also. Especially when you can jump off the turbo and straight onto a treadmill.

The Race
So on to the race. The prep was good. My focus was to go with a process as opposed to chase a time and I reckoned a sub 10 was 50-50. The start of this race is epic – the guy on the mike can really get the crowd going. I got myself up near the front and was in and away pretty quickly. Didn’t feel like a fast swim but out in a low 57 but given I had put my hand on some sea life that resembled a jelly fish (but was dark brown and hard) and then avoided a few proper jellies coming at me, combined with a bit of a swell – I was just glad to get out.

Quick transition of 3.56 mins and on to the bike. This is the process bit – power meter wasn’t working but I knew this months out and had decided to go off feel and heart rate (having worked the heart rate out from all those turbos). Also looking to negative split as the road sessions I had done also focused on this. So control it, ignore the fast bikers passing me out, eat, check effort levels,– push the effort but control. Repeat for 180k. At 90k lets pick it up a bit. This is the plan.

This course is fast to the turnaround. Slightly downhill with a tail wind to the furthest part of the course. 1 short right turn and up a small hill and back to the main road and then a second hill which is more of a steady hill climb – assume they add this in an effort to split up the groups. Pretty fast down this one. Lots of traffic cones around here and bits of the course very tight so need to stay focused. Flying along to the turnaround and keeping an eye on effort and speed. Reckoned I was sitting at around 35kph average and on the flats hitting and staying at 40kph. I knew from the last time I did this course that the turnaround and back to the halfway point in the town was slightly uphill and probably into the wind so would need to stay aero and increase the effort a bit. Hit 90k at about 2.35 so happy with this and plan was now to up it a bit – defo was comfortable to this point.

Heading down the really fast section and I was trying to up the tempo a bit and stay as aero as possible on the new bike. Was feeling good and was trying to work out where I was in terms of getting off the bike and starting the run – what would I need for the sub 10. Reckoned I was on for a 5.10 bike at worst and then I hit something, looked up, hit the deck and slid along the road. I had hit a traffic cone on a straight piece of road at over 40kph. A bit dazed I was sitting in the middle of the road and one of the marshals appeared in front of me – she had no English and I had no Spanish – then she started doing the Spanish version of Head, Shoulders, Knees and toes!! I worked it out – she wanted me to do a quick check. By this time there were 4/5 people there and I was lifted up and to the side of the road. I was a bit dazed and my knuckles and arm were badly grazed along with my left knee. She asked ‘continue or ambulance’. I got some water and rinsed out the black bits in my arm and got back on the bike. Only then did I realise I had slid into the car lane – lucky no cars when it happened – also manage to break the cone (served it right!). no damage to the bike – left brake and rear skewer took the brunt of the slide – only a new bike so relieved no other damage.

So back on the bike and was quite tentative – up and down the small hill. As I was going up the bigger hill I was struggling to remember if I had gone up the smaller hill or skipped it out (I had gone up it!). This wasn’t good – I couldn’t go on the bars as my arm had a graze on it about 5-10cm at its widest and from my elbow to half way to my wrist – it hurt. At the aid station at the top of the hill there was a medic and I stopped – she aggressively scrubbed it (it hurt even more!) and bandaged it up and I was on my way again – I lost 15 minutes between the crash and the clean up when I looked back at the watch (which also got smashed). I set off and started getting a sore head – was then worried I had concussion until I put my hand up to where it was sore I realised the strap at the back of the helmet had twisted after I put it back on when I was getting the bandages done. The tension twister was sticking into me!! Phew, I didn’t think I knocked my head. Had to stop and fix it. Made my way to the top of the hill at a snail pace – was raging with myself. Hit the turn and decided to see if I could pick it up – hit about 50kph on way back down so mentally I figured I was ok to be on the bike. Still, I was feeling a bit like the day was done, sub 10 was gone, I had done 110k so a good bit of the bike still to go. Totally feeling sorry for myself now. As I came to the bottom of the hill there was an ambulance and some poor guy had hit the deck round the corner. I went very slowly round that corner! Decision time. I was almost turning left to head back – c20k back to town or right to the turnaround and its all in for 180km. Physically it was just scrapes and a sore knee when I pedalled – reckoned that would go after a while. I knew if I had stopped I would still be sore, and I would regret it. I decided I would keep going, I had trained all year for this and as long as I wasn’t going to injure myself further I should finish. So head down (but this time eyes up) and get the process back in place. Also was conscious the timing mats would be freaking my wife out as I would have been a long time between two. My ave speed between those two mats was 18kph (down from 33-36 for the other segments). I got this back to this level again with even now had a slight tail wind at the turnaround so I knew she would think I just got a puncture.

As I was coming back and hitting 160-170km I dug in a bit more and then realised I would have to stop where my wife and my mates family were waiting to explain – I was bandaged on both hands, right arm and left knee so I didn’t want to go past them and say nothing. I slowed when I got up to where they were but no sign of them. So just kept going and figured I would see them early on the run. As I was going back thru the town you weren’t allowed on the Tri bars so it was sit up and concentrate as it was twisty with lots of ramps. The knee was still sore so my plan was walk thru transition and ensure I could run on it. Was a bit disappointed as I was walking and it hurt. I decided I would start the run and if there was no danger of further injury I would finish this thing. Transition had taken 8 mins so very long as I was just getting annoyed with myself for a moment lapse in concentration and the impact this had had on the race. I was however out on the run so get the head right and try for the run plan. Take it handy – 5.10-5.15 per km for the first 5k and then steady. Try and go through in c 1.50 and negative split.

Seen Elaine (wife) and my mates family after about a km. Had to stop and explain I was ok and after an ‘OMG’ from my wife, when she realised I was okay I was told to just get going (lots of sympathy there!!). I was getting quite a few sympathy shouts as I resembled something like the marshmallow man from Ghostbusters with the bandages.

So by 1km the knee pain that I had getting off the bike had gone now. I was happy I could run with just pain from road rash on my hands, arm and knee and there wouldn’t be any long term damage. So I set off to see if I could hit my pre-race target of a negative split and somewhere in the 3.40-3.50 range.

I controlled the first few km and once I got in the rhythm I was knocking out the km on pace of c5.10-5.15 per km. I was checking my form and focusing on the process and all was well. The biggest issue at this stage was that my watch screen was smashed to bits from the crash so couldn’t really see it (not such a big issue). It beeped every km and I was able to see the km pace. The other issue was the sweat was building under the bandages on my knuckles and it was stinging like hell. I ditched them after a while and a bit of water sorted that out. I went through the first half marathon in 1.52 so still on track for my pre race target. And I was enjoying it (a bit).

This positive attitude continued until km 30 and then I started feeling angry with myself and then a bit sorry for myself for not being ‘present’ on the bike (i.e. thinking too far ahead instead of focusing on what I was doing at the time) and then a bit sorry for myself along the lines of sure I have finished 8 of these and this isn’t going to be anywhere near my 10.16 pb so what is the point – I had made a mess of this race at 100km on the bike. I also felt that the sub 10 would have been on and if I had reached this point on the run with it still being on I could have went deep. However given the day I had just had I wasn’t in the mindset to bury myself (my km pace dropped off a cliff as I started walking – which also gives you too much time to think!). That then annoyed me a bit too (never happy!). The crowds were great and every time I walked or looked like I was struggling a bit there were cheers and shouts of encouragement. I got a few shouts on the run from the Pulse crew (apparently I’m hard to spot with just a black tri suit on) – I’ll have that sorted for next year as it’s a little bit damaged and I need a new one! So I battled on and similar to last time I did this race (I think I’ve had it with Barca) – my newthe target was to get in before its dark. I ended up with a second half marathon of 2.12 and a run of 4.04. Finishing chute was good – just walked it with the Irish Flag and soaked it up – I did feel like I accomplished something today and worked out that when it gets tough I can keep going. Finished in a 10.50. Ohh what could have been!!

I had managed to delay everyone as we had a dinner booked that evening as my mate had made me go to the medical tent where they quite literally took out a brillo pad and scrubbed all my cuts – it stung like crazy – he thought it was hilarious. He was also delighted at breaking the 10 (I was delighted for him as at least one of us did). I then took an emergency blanket as I only had a long sleeve top with me and it was too sore to get on – I wrapped that around me like a dress for the walk back to get the bikes and to the hotel.

A good night out after in Oktoberfest and lets just say the next day was horrible for many different reasons – beer is only a temporary solution to pain 

Key lessons – Be in the present for the whole day. Be prepared to change (but don’t compromise) your goals – you don’t know that the Ironman race will throw at you. Know why you are here – that will get you across the line!

Next stop – Ironman Vitorria Gasteiz, Spain – July 2020. Let hope for something a little less eventful!

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