Monday, May 5, 2014

Ironman South Africa 2014 - Race Report

One month after Ironman, I am finally able to post the race report of what was, to date, my best race in this distance.

Nine months of training were about to culminate in what I was expecting to be close to 11h of racing in PE, so it was about time to travel out there and prep up for the last few days before race day.

We arrived in PE on Thursday and, like last year, I was well accompanied by my wife, kids, and my sister, who had traveled from Angola to not only watch my race on Sunday, but to also race on her very first triathlon on Saturday.  It was about to be a very busy and competitive weekend for the Vieira crew!

This year I chose a different Bed and Breakfast as last year’s was a bit too far, and we needed a car to get to and from the BB, so this year we stayed at the cozy Brighton Bed & Breakfast on Brighton Road in Port Elizabeth.  We checked in and decided to have something to eat so went out to the mall for a quick meal, and then back to set up the bikes and get some rest for the following day.

On Friday morning I went out for a quick and relaxed swim, then we all went out to the Expo, checked ourselves in and, obviously, spent some money at the different booths.  It was all very busy with athletes and their families, and you could feel the energy everywhere.  We met up with our Spanish friends Paco and Yolanda who drove from Cape Town to come and watch me.  Paco was a heavy smoker who had recently quit smoking and had been following my triathlon training and racing for the past 9 months.  I convinced him to give triathlon a go so he was also doing his first triathlon with my sister on Saturday before my race.  I couldn't wait to see them both compete, but before that, my power wife was racing the IronGirl 8,5Km run on Friday.

We both headed out to the starting line and we left the kids with our friends and my sister.  The the start line was completely packed and we had already talked about her pushing her way out to the front of the pack otherwise shew as going to be slowed down by the "walkers" in the race.  We kissed goodbye and off she was, to push her way up to the front of the start line before the gun went off.

There were roughly 1600 ladies doing the race, and many of them were either wifes or girlfriends of guys doing the Ironman on Sunday, but I was surprised to see that quite a few of them were actually racing IM on Sunday themselves and were just doing this 8,5Km race for a jolly! Good for them!

The gun went off and Sonia headed out on the first third of the group, but not quite as ahead as we would have liked.  As the avalanche of runners went by, the avalanche of family member ran to the beach road to wait for them to come by us.

She found her way to the front of the pack and passed us in the top 20 as we all cheered and shouted for her.  As the whole group passed us to go for a final turn around before coming under the arch and through the red carpet!  Once again my power wife was able to come in on the top 20 of this race, with a 20th position overall out of 1600 women, and 5th in her age group! I was so so proud of her! THAT'S MY GIRL!

One more medal for her collection, now if only I could convince her to give triathlon a try! I did, however, convince my sister Helga and friend Paco to try the Corporate Triathlon as their first event in the sport, which comprised of exactly one tenth of the distances we covered in the Ironman making it a 380m swim, 18Km bike, and a 4,2Km run.

On Saturday morning I accompanied them bright and early and I could feel both the excitement and nervousness in both of them, but my only advice to them was to not worry about any times, and just try to enjoy the experience! They both finished the race and had a blast... so much so that Paco registered for the ITU race in Cape Town with me 3 weeks later, and my sister registered for a half marathon in Houston, TX, and is already looking for her next triathlon race to enter! Triathlon does this to us... it gets us addicted!

Right, so by now I had lost my voice from all the cheering and screaming for my family and friends, and I needed to try and relax a bit, rest, and get ready for what was to be a very long day on Sunday!  I went to rack my bike and then I headed back to the hotel to rest.

Race Day

I had the alarm clock set for 4:15am, but there was really no need to do that as I kept waking up every hour during my sleep!  I already had my bike racked from the day before, but I kept going over the item list again and again as if I was expecting to have forgotten to pack anything in the bags... luckily not!

I left the hotel by myself and got to transition right after it had opened.  I carefully placed my nutrition and drink in their place, made sure I had 12 saltsticks for the bike and 6 for the run.  I needed to find someone to lend me a pump as I didn't take mine with me cuz I didn't want my wife to have to carry it around the whole day! I find a guy to lend me his pump and as Im pumping my front wheel... puff... the end o the valve (the part that unscrews loose) breaks!! FUCK! Immediately I thought "Ok, run to the hotel and get the spare front wheel (Zipp 404) for the race, no big deal"! I panicked a bit, I must say, but after a few deep breaths I realized I could still pump air into the tyre... and it would stay in! I pumped and pumped ( a bit harder than usual) and "voilá", it was fine! Yeah, big sigh of relieve from me.

I was all ready to go... but no family in sight yet, and the beach was packed! I had spoken to my wife and sister briefly telling them where I was, but they were already calling my wave out to the beach to line up and I was already expecting not to say goodbye to them, when I finally see them when on the phone to them. We kiss, we hug, and both my wife and sister give me a few words of encouragement, while my kids simply kiss me while still half asleep! Bless them!

Boy, I look dead tired here! 
For the first time this year, there were going to be different waves for the race start, and I was on the third wave after the pros and the 18-34 AG.  I didn't place myself at the very back this year, but neither did I go to the front of the pack! I was about two thirds of the way back and when the gun went off I followed the crowed into the Indian Ocean.  The first 300m were quite agitated and I did get and throw a few punches, but as we turned left at the first buoy it all got better as the field thinned with the faster swimmers gone quite quickly.  The whole swim was quite uneventful and relaxed.  I remember looking at the right and seeing the sun coming up on the horizon and thinking to myself how lucky I was to be there, with close to 3000 people racing in the sport I love and BAMMM.. (punched in the head by another swimmer) what was a sign to stop day dreaming and keep going! I was actually quite happy to get the same time as the year before, which was 90mins, so all I was thinking about was to keep going and not stress too much.  This year the swim was only one lap, which was surely welcomed  by me, but it felt like it just kept going forever!  i finally reach shore and get out of the water in 1h:14m, 5 minutes faster than the year before!

For me, this is where the Ironman fun begins! I consider myself a better than average biker and I was ready to shave some time on the field with my bike split.  My coach and I looked at my FTP and set my target wattage to 190 for the race, so all I had to do was look at my Garmin and keep the average wattage on 190W, and that would give me good bike time!  It was all a bit of a guessing game on the times, because they had changed the course from the previous year where I had an average of 170W for a time of 5h:29m, while this year we didnt really know what the 190W would give me in terms of time!

I headed out for the first of two laps and immediately my wattage was above 200W! I had to pace myself down on the wattage, specailly as the first 20Kms of the bike are on a gradual climb which, obviously, make you push more watts.  I was not worried about getting passed on the hill climbs, but I had my eyes on the descents to keep the wattage at 190W to stick to the plan.  
After the initial climb and descent we got into the hills, which was the new part of the course this year.  I was feeling fine and I knew what was ahead as I had driven the course a few days before! I stayed in the saddle, hugged the tri bars and stared at my cockpit spinning my legs, spinning and spinning! I was not going to fatigue on the climbs so I sticked to the plan and kept the wattage as low as possible on the climbs.

I was feeling very comfortable on the bike, and the wattage was at 192W on by lap 1, but I knew I had to do it all over again and keep the same effort on a hilly ride! As I do my first lap and go through the buzzing town center, I couldn't help but look around everywhere for my family! But as I reached and passed the Ironman arch over the road I thought I had missed them and headed towards the water station on the side of the road for a refill of my Speedfill bottle when I heard "Papiiiii... Papaaaa, Vamosss Miguel, Vamos Papaaa!!!" I almost crashed into the water tent as I was trying to grab a bottle and wave to my family at the same time! Needless to say, seeing them gave me an extra adrenaline boost which lasted long enough to get me half way up the hill out of town!

I do my best to stick to the power on the ups and downs, and just as Im getting ready to go down the first long downhill, my team mate Robbie catches me from the wave behind! It was great to know he was around as he is a great cyclist and very strong athlete who I knew was chasing a podium at that race.

Robbie passed me with a "heeyyy buddy", and  soon enough he was a few riders ahead of me, but I always had one eye on him and the other on my Garmin and the wattage.

After the dunes and the hilly part of the course, I reeled Robbie in and pushed a bit harder to stick to my wattage as it was falling behind at this point. I was able to finish the bike with a 185W BUT, but... my normalized power was 199W, meaning my effort could have given me 199W had I been a bit smarter on my power distribution on the bike.  Total bike time was 5h:49m.

I exited T2 at the same time as Robbie and even smiled at the camera when my sister was taking some photos saying "hey... Look who Im hanging with!!" Yeah, that didn't last too long as Robbie was soon gone at lightning pace while I was hanging on 4m:45s/Km for the first lap, which was quite comfortable.

My second lap, however, was a different story.  I hit a wall on Km 18 and slowed my pace down tremendously to the point where I was running 6m:20/Km at a point.  The way out of to the University is the worst at IMSA because we leave the crowd  and the party scene behind.  No family to cheers us on, and no screaming crowd to yell out your number even without knowing who you are! Out by the University we are on our own, chasing the guys in front of us and counting the turns to that last water station before we head back to the party scene.

Once we head back to the center of town our head lifts higher, our stride is firmer, and our back is straighter... "I'm ok, I got this!" your body is telling everyone! Every time I went by that crowd I had an extra bit of strength pushing me through! Every time I would go by the MyTrainingDay tent and the guys would scream my name I'd push a longer stride and a quicker candence! It was an unbelievable crew at the tent, and if anyone is reading this... thanks guys!

On lap two I passed a few of my squad mates who were showing signs of cramping and pain. I couldn't really do much but tap them on the back and yell out a "C'mon mate!". I was chasing a sub11h as a personal goal, but I was also chasing Tim and Rob (Yeah Tim.. I know you're gonna read this!!).

I could see Tim and Graham at the turn around point, and I chased them down after the first lap, hoping to close the gap on them on laps two and three. But Rob was behind me on the turnaround point meaning he was either about to lap me, or he was behind me and I did't notice passing him. After the second turnaround, I could see I had gained some ground on Graham, but Tim was actually pulling away! "Bastard" I thought! He's gonna beat me again!  I hit a bit of a wall on Kms 19 and 32, but I was able to press on the gas pedal for the last 10Kms.  I didnt manage to pass Tim (Yeah... I know you're reading this!) but I did manage to pass Graham and Grant to finish my run with a time of 3h:53m.

Looking Back
Looking back I dont think I could have done anything different or any better.  My swim is still where I can shave the most time on as most of the guys who I train with swan anywhere between 59m and 1h:15m.   I need to make the swim sessions with the squad and try to leave the water with the pack, and not behind the pack.

On my bike I feel I can still push my FTP 20W-30W towards the next season.  If I can come in 30 mins quicker on the bike, then I'll be chasing top10 spots on my AG (provided I swim quicker, of course).

My run was a bit up and down with two slumps which slowed down my pace.  I should be chasing 3h:30m in the marathon, meaning I need to shave over 20mins on this year's time in order to hope for Kona spots.

After the race I found my wife and kids and gave them the biggest hug! They were out there the whole day cheering for me and yelling every time I'd go by, and they are a massive part of this accomplishment, specially my wife.  I am able to train and compete in this crazy sport of ours because she allows me to! She is the apple of my eye and my queen!

One more year has gone by, and another IMSA completed.  Time to relax a bit and start training again for Ironman Frankfurt in July with the Argon18 Spanish Mafia! I can't wait!