Wow, what a way to end a season! 1st in my Age Group (AG) and 29th overall, including fifty or so Pro’s, and where better than the Lanzarote 70.3 Ironman, held at Club La Santa (CLS), in the 25th anniversary year of my grandparents, who set it up for us as a family, with some of the people that have supported me for years.
It has been a fantastic place to grow up and I’m so fortunate to have met some truly incredible people over the years that have all helped me get to where I am today. I’d especially like to mention Dave Muir, Lisa & Julie, Casten & Lena, Oggy & Donna, Alison, Bob Foy, and the numerous Green Teamers that have all inspired, helped, taught and guided me. You have all been amazing and it was great to see most of you out there this year!
Ok, so a little background info for you before the race report…
One of the reasons why it has been so amazing to end the season with coming first in an Ironman event, based at CLS is because around ten years ago, I competed in my first triathlon of many. Typically accompanied by Oggy and Carsten, due to being under fifteen, every time I went out on the bike, I was in total awe of the first person that rocketed down that hill in their incredibly aero positions, on an amazing bit of kit, with all the gear, hitting the speeds they were and reaching the bottom of the hill before I had barely even had the chance to start climbing it. It was just so incredible and inspiring to watch and I can just remember thinking to myself time and time again that that’s what I wanted to do, that’s who I wanted to become, I wanted to be just like them and be the Ironman that they typically were.
Over the years, that has stayed with me and I have watched my progress as I slowly moved from being last, moving up the pack to now being at the front. It has been an incredible journey and I love coming back to CLS and watching the people on the other side, as they climb, and reminding myself of my journey and the potential of those who are currently being accompanied just like I was.
It really is a special place for me and always reminds me that, whatever your goal or ambition is, if you put your mind to it, train for it and believe in yourself you can make it happen! Of course it helps to have the support and thankfully some truly amazing people have given that to me and I can’t thank them enough, as I know it would’ve been a lot harder without them!
So being able to come out this year and compete in the Lanzarote 70.3 Ironman was another step closer to that dream and that goal I had ten years ago and still have today and to be able to finish it, win my AG and come in the top 30 means so much to me!
Ok so back to the race report now…
Having headed off to Lanzarote a few weeks ago with my now repaired steed (my bike that is), thanks to NFU Insurance, after my crash in Aviles, I had time to meet and train with some amazing athletes, spend time with family, train and prepare for the race, testing the course, acclimatising, sorting everything bike wise, including a change in my wheel sets and clearing all the mechanical problems I had, with Dave’s help, along with sorting myself out, by going down to the spa regularly, stretching more, and even having a physio and massage session, towards the end, to relieve all the very tight muscles, which I probably shouldn’t have let get as bad as they had. It was all coming together like clockwork and seemed like the perfect run up to a race.
24th September 2016 … 6am … My alarm rings and race day has finally arrived and I’m both excited and nervous. So much training, hard work, time and effort have gone into the preparation of this race, it’s the product of 13 months of well planned, scheduled and descriptive training sessions with Mark Pearce, my coach. There have been the highs and lows, the fun and the tough, the exciting and the mentally challenging, the fast and the long, repetitive and new, but that’s what makes it all so great and makes up the incredible journey I’ve had! It’s also in a location that means so much, as I’ve said above, and is just part of a dream that has been going for 10 years or so.
Having racked the bike, done a quick bike check over, putting it in the right gear, and putting my shoes, Garmin and bottles on, I walked through the bag racking and checked all my equipment before heading to the lagoon, where the swim would be held.
It was a lovely morning, the sun was slowly rising and the temperature was just right. I followed the crowd to the waters edge and had a quick paddle before we had to get back out again and line up. I took my place, right at the front and in the middle, ready to go. I chatted with those around me in the hope that they then wouldn’t be as vicious, in the washing machine like start.
8:00AM … the pros lined up, and after the countdown, they were off! The Lanzarote 70.3 was now underway…5 minutes to go until we’re off!!!
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … GOOOOO!!! We were off, and as I breathed to each side, I could see the arms flying, legs kicking and people closing in on both sides. I started breathing every two to put some more power into my stroke and fought for my space, trying to prevent those that were trying to swim across me and take my goggles off.
Thankfully, I was successful and after reaching the first buoy, 200m from the start or so, we started spacing out and I seemed to have my own space. It wasn’t much, but it meant that I could get into a very good rhythm and push on towards the 2nd buoy, another 500m on.
Turning 90 degrees at the second buoy, I quickly got back into my rhythm and as I looked up to sight, I realised I was heading in the wrong direction. No one was in front of me and everyone else in front was heading to the right. Slightly confused, I reset my bearings, located the buoy and headed towards it.
Now swimming in the right direction, and leading what seemed to be the second pack of swimmers, with the waves coming from the right, I stayed strong and kept pushing. I was feeling the best I’ve ever been in a swim before, which surprised me a little.
One more buoy turned and now blinded by the sunlight beaming down on me, I had no idea where the next buoy was. I tried to locate the first pack of swimmers, but there was some water between us and it wasn’t easy. I headed over in roughly the right direction until I saw a line of splashing from the pack in front in the distance. I turned slightly and headed for the middle of the pack. Not knowing whether it was right but knowing that’s all I could do. I kept trying to locate the buoy but no luck.
Trusting in the row of swimmers in front, the buoy did, in fact, appear and with the end buoy turned, it was time to head back up to the windsurf station, 700m until the top buoy and then another 200m back down … half way.
Keeping to my rhythm and finding a fellow swimming come up along side me; we made it back up, trying to keep with one another.
With the last buoy turned and only 200m to go, I picked up the pace and raced towards the crowd. There wasn’t long to go and I wanted this to be THE RACE of the season and so I made it count.
Reaching the shallow waters, I stood up, lifted my legs and ran up to the beach, then up the little ramp, had a little photo shoot, before running along the carpets up to transition. Through the showers, over the track, collecting my bag, through to the changing rooms, emptying the contents and replacing it with the wetsuit, hat, and goggles. The helmet, socks, glasses and number belt then went on, and I ran back out of the tent, chucking my bag, before heading to my bike.
Running down to the Belgium flag, then over to the American flag, I located my bike, took it off the rails and legged it back out, over the track, round a sharp bend, over the dismount line, I jumped on the bike, clipped in and tightened up the shoes and I was soon off…T1 complete and out of transition first! It’s going well!
Unfortunately, after having had a fast transition, I noticed that someone had played around with my front water bottle and a strap was loosened and retightened. I won’t go into it too much but let’s just say, only 3 of the 4 straps were on, and I had checked it around an hour ago and it was fine. Knowing the course, the roads, winds, and descents, I knew that it wasn’t safe and so I pulled over and reattached the fourth strap and I was soon off again!
Climbing up to Soo, with a HR of 70, I wish, I took my first TORQ gel, made up a few positions, and just focussed on what I needed to do.
Reaching the top, I changed gears, sped up and was flying. I felt great and was looking forward to being able to race the course.
Jumping over the last speed ramp, and now leaving Soo, I headed towards Famara, on the long, straight, smooth roads etched out of the harsh landscape. I got down into my aero position, drank up and put the power through the pedals, with strong gusts coming from the left, I could tell it was one of the windiest days I’ve experienced out there but I was in my element!
Although being blown around, left and right, I was in race mode and whilst putting power into the pedals, I felt comfortable in the winds and just rode the hill out. I even overtook some Pros coming down … I must be doing alright!
Heading through Famara, over the bumpy, pot-holed roads, with a sandstorm, I battled it out and looked forward to the smooth roads, which were waiting for me just around the corner. 10 KILOMETERS DONE!
Reaching the smooth roads again, I was now on my 10km TT course. Uphill for the first bit, a turn to the right before a fast descent, with strong winds from the right, then a slight uphill, which momentum carries you up, before a slight left bend, a slight undulating section, another little right-hand bend, with a slight descent before the biggest climb of the 10km, but once you get to the top, flattens off, work up that and then tail wind taking you up to 60-70kph in no time. 20KM DONE!!!
Heading to the roundabout, I dropped the gears, leant around the corner and prepared for the wind to hit head-on before powering into it and heading up to Teguise. It was tough and slow, but everyone struggles on this bit and I’m still overtaking and gaining on others, so just keep peddling, stay down, and you’ll get there. There’s a fast decent to look forward to shortly afterwards.
Finally, the Teguise climb was over and it was time to hit the fast descent down to Tahiche. With the wind now behind, and a 6km downhill stretch, I was soon pedalling hard and at 70kph again. I overtook another Pro, gained some distance, before I freewheeled, leant to the side, and turned the first corner at just over 60kph. With the bend now over, it was time to pedal again and I soon reached 70kph, the road levelled off but I kept pushing and was soon descending again. A strong gust of wind hit me side-on and forced me a metre or so to each side, but thankfully each pedal stroke corrected that and I managed to control it.
Slowing down to the next roundabout, I prepared myself for the next section of the course … 15 kilometres of strong, brutal, head wind, with absolutely no cover, but I was ready for it, I knew that this was where I’d make up the most time.
Another TORQ gel consumed, another roundabout turned and it was time to make some time up … 30 KILOMETERS DONE!
The road was long and I was on my own. The closest person behind me is the Pro, now about 500m or so behind, and the closest in front were two riders, on the horizon of the hill, about a kilometre or so away. I powered on through and the kilometres clicked by. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t go quickly at all, and I must admit there were a few times when I realised that I fell into a more casual ride, where my HR dropped 15-20 beats lower than what I could’ve held but I was making my way round and gaining on the two in front.
Coming into Arrieta, the road narrowed and there was a stream of cars coming beside us. We were forced into a hard shoulder that was coned off for us and about a metre wide. I had overtaken the two riders by now and I was just about to overtake another two in front. Heading downhill, I had to time it just right. I went past one of the cones, accelerated, moved out, overtook, gained enough distance and got back in before the next cone went past … all done within 10 meters or so. Not easy as she was a Pro and quick too, but thankfully no errors and I didn’t cut her off either! I did the same to the next rider before reaching the police controlled area and the stopped traffic and took the left turn. Past the feed station, arm out, grabbed a bottle, opened it, squeezed it into the front bottle, poured the rest over me and chucked it into the bin 15 meters down the road … 45 KILOMETRES DONE … That’s half of it done. Now just the near 10-kilometre climb up Tabayesco…You can probably start to see why it’s typically referred to as the hardest Ironman 70.3 race.
Climbing up to the first turn, before all the switchbacks, time seemed to pass unusually quickly and it wasn’t long till I had the tail wind behind me, doubling my speed, every time I went from the left of the hill to the right. Loved it! I could just see a stream of riders spaced out on the roads below and the mechanic’s van with them. I passed another few riders and kept powering up the hill.
Reaching the T-junction, with Haria on the right and Teguise over to the left. I took the left and continued climbing. I could now see the 4 kilometres of switchbacks to the top, with people on each level.
I turned the first, overtook a rider, closed the gap to the next, turned again, two more riders passed, another turn, powered to the next, turned, then to the next, it was almost rhythmic. I looked over the edge, looking down at the five levels below, and the row of riders trailing down it.
Soon after I turned the last corner, it levelled off and I reached the top of the hill. I then overtook another Pro on a P5, which was encouraging and with the feed station in 50 meters, I prepared myself and it was time for the routine again, arm out, grab, open, squeeze, fill bottle, drench myself, and throw away. Perfect. Ready for the 9-kilometre decent back to CLS now!
Changing gears, I went over the peak, the P5 overtook, unfortunately, but I soon picked up speed … 40kph … 50kph … 60kph … 65kph, with the wind blowing viciously from the left, I was being blown all over the place. It was hard to control the bike but I was lucky to be on my own and with no one around me. I just rode it out and kept pushing, just hoping that I didn’t get blown off.
Next corner turned and time to pick up speed again, this time, the section was steeper, windier, faster and ended with a U-Turn. I had struggled with this part of the descent in the weeks before and with the winds stronger than I’ve ever experienced, it felt like I was on a runaway train, pedalling to add a slight swaying rhythm to the bike helping to compensate for winds but travelling at over 70kph, I was just hoping that I’d reach the bottom without a problem.
U-turn coming up, 50 meters to go, feathering the brakes and with my core heavily engaged, I slow, come out into the road, lean and take the corner. Phew, I’ve made it. I turn the pedals again before coming out into the road again, lean and take the next U-turn, before accelerating out of it and pushing on!
Reaching over 70kph again, I pass through a little village, take a 90-degree turn and head to Los Valles. I have a few more wobbles, but I’m on a mission now and nothing’s going to stop me!
Reaching the hill into Teguise, the inside of my right legs decides to cramp up as I start climbing, with some shock on my first pedal stroke I say to myself … please no, please no, come on, not cramp! Come on. Ok just keep pushing, keep going, and fight through it! It was a really odd sensation but I did it. I got to the top of the hill, where I was then able to change the gear down and spin out a bit, easing it off. I took another TORQ gel, drank some electrolyte and I was soon back racing like normal.
Down the hill at Teguise, round the roundabout, and back towards Famara and the final feed station, arm out, grab, open, squeeze, drench myself, chuck. Getting into the rhythm of this. Final 10km to go…time to prepare for the run and make the last 10km count. Hydrate, take on nutrition, pace and mentally prepare.
Coming back into CLS, I unclipped my shoes, put my left foot on top, brought the other leg over and ran off the bike, over the dismount line, onto the track and back into transition, back to the Belgium flag, then to the American one, racking the bike and running through to the bag area, collecting my bag, emptying in the changing rooms, helmet off, trainers on, hat on and back out, chucking the bag and out onto the track and onto the first lap of three.
I was off and flying, I looked down at my watch and I was apparently running at 3:20 pace, ok so a bit too fast. Don’t worry, I slowed down and decided to follow my run strategy, steady going up the hills, push going down, with a 40-second differential or so between the two, and 15 – 15.5 kph on the flats, pacing the whole thing.
On each lap, I did exactly that. I left the track, went past the first feed station, turned the first corner, went down the hill, picking up the speed, dropping it slightly for the flat part, going past the second feed station, and then even more so going up to the top of the hill at La Santa, before taking a right turn, passing the final feed station, before going down to the dirt track at the end and U-turning to head back.
I was feeling great, no problems at all, the pace was good, I felt strong and I was on track. I knew what I needed to do and knew what I was capable of. Every feed station, I drank a bit of water and chucked the rest of it over me and at the beginning of every lap, I’d slow down, collect a gel from mum or Oggy, in the special needs area, consume it and be off again.
Lap one went by, no problems at all. The second lap went by, no problems either. I came back from the end of my second lap, back onto the track, ran around, and collected my last band of the day from the Green Team. It was an amazing atmosphere there, with them cheering, dancing and even singing to the loud music that was blowing out of the speakers. It was great and I seemed to have a boost every time I went past.
With the last band collected, it only meant one thing … LAST LAP … and my last lap of the season, so MAKE IT COUNT! I’m nearly there. Only 7km to go and the time clocked so far was 4 hours 20 or so, which meant that I was going to make my sub 5-hour target even with the hard course conditions. Well ok, I’ve still got one lap but I should make it!
I left the track, went round the corner, past the bike centre, picked up my gel from Oggy at the feed station, had it and then collected some water, drinking a bit and chucking the rest. I then turned the corner, picked up the speed going down, and was soon on the flat with only 6km to go.
Past the next feed station, and this time feeling like a banana, I looked and listened out for one but missed it as all three helpers held oranges out. Damn, oh well. Doesn’t matter. Collect the water, drink some and pour the rest.
Time to start the climb up to La Santa, last time I’ll be doing this, I said to myself. I picked up the pace slightly and knew that this was it. It was the last time to keep anyone off my heels and catch up with those in front. I found myself passing those that were a lap or two behind and that only encouraged me to push some more.
Reaching the top of the hill, I took the right turn, passed the feed station, poured the water over me once again and tried to pick up the pace to 16.5kph.
Heading round the turn point, I knew I only had 3.5km to go and I started looking on the other side for anyone on my lap and in my category. I really didn’t feel like a sprint finish and I didn’t even know if I’d have one at the end of this and so I wanted to create the gap now rather than later. With more and more athletes on the course, this became hard to monitor, but thankfully there were the bands and so I looked at who was on their last lap too and who was in my category. Thankfully I didn’t see anyone but I wasn’t going to risk anything. It was time to increase the pace as I took the left-hand turn, and widen my stride. Putting one foot in front of the other, trying to keep in the best form I could, I came down the last hill of the day. Now time for the flat part, back past the feed station, pouring even more water over me and back up the final hill. One last push and then that was it.
Running up the final bit of the hill, with the wind blowing down and funnelling in like a wind tunnel, I made the top… only 600 meters to go. However, my body was in pain, I could feel that I had given everything and it just wanted to collapse. I felt like I was limping and my eyes just wanted to close. I pushed through and just focussed on the next stride. 100m on, I felt I had received an extra boost somehow…perhaps the crowds that started to appear and the knowledge that it’d all be over in a matter of minutes!
I looped back onto the track at the 300m mark, cheered on by the crowd and Green Teamers, I gained some speed, overtaking some more people, who were on the lap behind, passing Dave at the 100m mark, who then cheered me on and shouted ‘Go Zac, well done, final sprint’. I tried to rotate my legs a bit faster but all that seemed to happen was something in my head going ‘yer right, like that’s going to happen!’, I tried again and perhaps I got a bit more speed but it didn’t matter anyway. I smiled, lifted my hands and the relief and enjoyment that came through as I crossed that line was absolutely incredible. It was amazing! 4 hours 51 minutes. The race was over. The last race of my season was complete and I had given it everything I had. I made my way over to one of the guys handing out the medals, he put it over me, congratulated me, and gave me a handshake that turned into a hug or perhaps more of him just holding me up. I needed it though.
Once I was ready I spotted some benches and made my way over to recover and collapse. My body was sore, legs tired, I was mentally tired and as my body recuperated it seemed like the hardest part of the race. I just wanted to lie down, crawl up into my bed and sleep!
Couldn’t believe it. It was all over. I watched a few come in and then I wobbled over to the spa and jumped (more like sat on the edge, leaned forward and fell in). I stayed there for a while before heading over to the Jacuzzi and then back up to the track to see Dave in, have a massage and collect my race time and see what position I had come.
I looked at the race marshal as the receipt came out, she looked at it, turned round, picked up a t-shirt and a band for me. I looked for some sort of expression on her face that would hint as to whether I had done it or not, but no hint was received. I took the top, the band and looked at the result. I’ve worked so hard for this and felt like I gave it everything I could, I scrolled my eyes down the sheet, looked across at category position and read the result … Oh my goodness, I’ve actually come first and 1st and 28th overall. I couldn’t believe it! I was amazed and just so relieved! Everything had come together and it was now time for me to enjoy, celebrate and decide whether I was going to take my place for the 2017 Ironman 70.3 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, America. (I did by the way!)
Ok so I’ve got a lot of people to thank, so please bear with me but they have all been involved with the journey to getting here and they all deserve a mention.
Firstly, I’d like to say thank you to all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the bike and gear along with their continued support and backing, TORQ for their amazing sports nutrition products (www.torqfitness.co.uk) and to the Stamford Endowed Schools and to Lincolnshire County Council for their financial support.
I’d also like to say thank you to my friends and training buddies at Warwick University that have helped me over the years, Mark for first introducing me to the club and encouraging me to compete in the UK, then to Nick and Aaron for their swim sessions, Elo for her track sessions, Alfred for being such a great friend and for doing pretty much every training session with me and to the best training partner of all, my amazing girlfriend, Charlotte, who although isn’t always nearby, always inspires and encourages me with her commitment to training and running and always gives me that extra boost when I need it.
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to all my friends and family, for all the support, inspiration and guidance you’ve given me. It was lovely to have the family reunion this year and see a lot of you in CLS. I’d also like to thank Jonathan for all the long rides you kept me company on. It was great to have someone to ride with and it made the coffee breaks a lot more enjoyable…I wouldn’t have stopped for all the cake every week otherwise 😉
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to my coach, Mark Pearce, at IntelliTri, who has worked with me over the last year and has been amazing. At the beginning of the season he asked me what I wanted from a coach and I said flexibility (for my work and travel plans), someone that knew data well and could use that to optimise my sessions and understand how I may be feeling and adapt when necessary, a well-organised and detailed session plan with a schedule that would improvement fitness levels and prepare me for my races and to get onto that podium more, with the long-term goal of getting to the top of Ironman. Well, he has definitely done that, I can feel the difference his sessions have made; I feel stronger, fitter and the results have come and I’m one step closer to my aims, my goals and my sporting dream, so thank you, Mark. You have been incredible and I hope that this next year will be as good as the last!
I’d also like to say thank you to Dave, who helped so much in the lead up to the race and helped me to race smarter and have a smooth, clean and fast bike. Your help has been invaluable. I’d also like to say thank you to Oggy and Donna, who were able to come out for the weekend to come support me, just like the good old days when Oggy supported me on my first triathlon, 10 years ago. To Alison, Sarah and Calle for letting me stay in your apartments, allowing me to have a prime location with the race and training facilities all around me. To all the Green Team, race marshalls, supporters and race organisers for the amazing support and for making the atmosphere so incredible and to the biker boys who helped me numerous times the weeks before. You’ve all been incredible with supporting me.
Finally a special thank you to my mum for all the organising, cooking, shopping, cheering, supporting and all the other amazing things you’ve done, allowing me to just focus on the race without any distractions. Thank you!
I’ve accepted my place for the 2017 World Champs so Chattanooga here we come!!!
Until next season, enjoy, make the most of what you’re doing and have fun,