Ever since my second place (AG) in Ironman 70.3 Thailand I had my eyes on Ironman 70.3 Barcelona. As I wrote earlier, Ironman Geelong and Florida were races I was trying just to have fun, but Barcelona was different. With a solid block of over 4 weeks of training planned in Girona I was really hoping to go fast here, and I had all sorts of expectations in my mind in terms of time and ranking.
However, with barely two weeks of living and training in Girona done, it became painfully clear that all these expectations were not pushing me to the next level but, if anything, they were holding me back. Holding me back from training well, holding me back from enjoying and holding me back from being a nice person for the ones around me.
I got sick in our first week in Girona and it took a good week before I could train again on a normal level, my bike broke down in every mechanically way possible and my mind was all over the place, worrying about the upcoming race in Barcelona. In my mind, this was the race where I had to show progress. I told people I was gonna go and hit the podium again, right? This was the moment, and now everything went wrong. I wasn’t enjoying any of my training anymore and really had a huge mental dip. I hated every moment on the bike. Couldn’t push on the run and had to drag my ass to the pool.
I had to get back to the basics. After I started to open up about how I felt and started talking about it, it clicked. I wasn’t doing this for anybody else. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I was in Girona, the place I love the most when it comes to training. Slowly but surely I started to enjoy everything again. The amazing hills, the great pool and the awesome running trails. I also made the decision to fly back to NL and swap bikes to continue to travel and race on my Cervelo P2 (which is far easier to fix and maintain on the road by myself). The positive change was just in time for a hard week of training with Jorrit. We had a lot of hours of swimming, biking and running planned and I finally felt good again. I was really hammering on the bike and broke all my personal records on the test climbs around Girona.
Now on to the race; I was more relaxt than ever coming into race weekend. I let go of all expectations and just wanted to enjoy and try to go fast. The evening before the race, my race plan came together while watching Tom Dumoulin win the mountain stage to Oropa. Dumoulin wasn’t looking at any of his competitors when they attacked. All he did was pace himself in a way that he knew was his max. He just hit the watts he could until the finish line and whatever result that would bring would be good for him. This was exactly what I would try to do, but then three times. Swim as fast as I could. Bike my own pace on the very hilly bike course, and run a pace which I thought I would be able to maintain for 21k after swimming and biking on my limits.
Race morning came and I was ready. Again, I felt calmer than I have had and just went through my own routine in setting up the bike and visualizing T1. Since I paid too many entry fees last year I had an amazing place to rack my bike in T1, right opposite to the race favorite Jan Frodeno. Frodeno and his trainingsbuddy Nick Kastelein also live and train in Girona and I got to talk to them quite a number of times in the weeks leading into the race. Both guys are amazing. Super friendly, helpful, inspirational and out of this world fast. After leaving T1 and walking on to the beach Frodeno walked passed me and nodded to me. ‘Good luck today buddy’ he said. Now I’m not often star struck, but this already made my day. It was ‘go time’!
The swim was a rolling start based on expected swim time. I love this, it means you get to swim with guys (and girls) who are as fast as you are and are motivated to hit it hard from the start as well. After sprinting towards the first buoy I found a good pair of feet and a nice rhythm. Maintaining the pace felt ‘comfortably hard’ and I knew that with this effort a sub30 minute swim might be possible. And then again; If not, then not… I was swimming as optimal as I could. After a somewhat rougher way back and a couple of fights for position I exited the water and looked at my watch. BAM. 29:30. I felt awesome and happy. Finally i’d gone sub30 again. I knew I could do it and I was happy that all the hours in the pool paid off. On to the bike!
The bike course in Barcelona is not fast. Actually, it is freaking slow and tough. Nick Kastelein told me in the week before the race that he did Barcelona 70.3 twice before and that you had to adjust your projected bike split by 20-30 minutes. I kept this in mind and knew that this would mean a bike split of 2:40-2:50. The course rolls out of Calella and than hits three climbs before heading back. The climbs are not too steep but all quite long, with the second one to Montseny being the longest with about 12k at 5% avg.
I felt great from km1. On the first climb a couple of guys were flying past me. From their bib nr I could see that they were competing in my age group and normally this would have served as a red flag. I would have tried to follow and probably would’ve blown the engine. Not this time. I thought about the lesson I learned from Dumoulin the day before and just kept hammering around 310-315 watts uphill, thinking that I would probably see these guys again on the course today and if not, that I would have at least paced myself optimally. The course was not only tough, but also extremely beautiful. the climb to Montseny was amazing with great views of the Mediterranean. After this climb there was a loooong decent. By this time I was riding with two guys. I knew that staying with them on the downhill/false flats would be hugely beneficial, so I really went for it. I bombed myself down into the decent. I knew every corner from the map I had on my Garmin, and I really went full gas. It was a decent on the limits and I’m happy that there is no video footage of it;).
On the final climb I really started to feel that I was pacing well. My legs were hurting, but in a good way. I was passing a lot of guys and could still ride over 300 watts. On the top of the final climb I looked at my avg speed and I knew I was having a good ride. After another fast decent I reached T2 in 2:42 with an avg speed of 33.2 km/h over 90k and more than 1200 altitude meters.
I was looking forward to the run. There were a lot of people cheering for me and I hoped I would have good legs and run a new 70.3 half marathon PR. I started of swiftly with kms of around 4:05, hoping I could hold on to this pace as long as possible. This went pretty well until km10. Around this point I was slowing down a bit, but onto a pace of 4:15 which I felt I could bring home to the finish line. It was also around this point that Frodeno was running his home stretch (it was a two loop, out and back course) and ran towards me. He looked very strong and gave me a thumbs up and a little nod. I can tell you that, after about 4 hours of full gas racing, this was really putting me in a good place, mentally. I was sharing the course with arguably the best triathlete ever (Olympic gold, 70.3 and 2x IM world champion), so cool.
I grinded through the final, always tough, run kilometers and entered the red carpet to finish the run in 1:27:27 (new IM 70.3 run PB) and 4:45 total time, good for a 10th place in my AG and 55th overall amongst 2300 competitors. I was so happy and proud. I executed my (almost) perfect race and enjoyed it to the fullest! After the race it was all smiles. It was awesome to have some beers with colleague Rick (who finished his first 70.3 strong) and to see Stefan get his slot for the World Championships in Chattanooga!
After a couple of days of quite painful legs (and adventure in Kenya) we are now in Cape Town. In about two and a half weeks from now another Ironman 70.3 awaits. Looking forward to toe the line there with all these fast South African guys. And enjoy the hell out of it. 🙂