Trial by Water, Wind and Fire - Ironman Lanzarote 2016

( Editorial note: apologies for the picture quality - trying to sort out the settings so that they would look normal. You can see the better version at my personal blog )


I signed up Ironman Lanzarote with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I confess - I had unfinished business with Ironman after what happened in Taiwan last year and I wanted to produce a better result. In a way I wanted the most grueling race, simply to prove to myself that I was tough enough to go through it. Lanzarote holds a fabled, near magical place in the hearts of Ironman community. It's a race for the 'bad asses'. I did some reconnaisance on the topic and discussed it with my wife. Well, I may have somewhat forced it upon her. But in the end I booked the race last summer. The realisation of what awaited me on that volcanic rock in the Atlantic ocean hit me soon after.

I knew the race hinges around the bike. It always has and always will. The topography ensures that no weak cyclist will even start the marathon run. The wind and temperature will further thin the ranks, yet I was not too worried about those. I chose to focus my training on the hills since that was the only constant in the race. The number "2551" became a bit of a mantra for me over the following months. I wastly improved my cycling ability and tried to ensure that my swimming and running didn't suffer too badly from the lack of focus. Finally, after endless hours on the turbo in the shed (in the freezing and wet UK winter) and having sacrificed my entire social life it was time to go. I was as ready as I ever would be.

You can read more about my training trials and tribulations in the previous posts. Also you can find the race report of my maiden Ironman Race as well as Lessons Learned post. 


My family and I arrived in Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote on Wednesday 18th May 2016 and reached our Villa in the quiet end of town in the evening. After a quick dinner and a shop it was time to go to bed. Thursday I popped over to La Santa for the athlete registration in the morning, and then the whole family came out to have a look at the expo and to feel the atmosphere in the afternoon as I attended the race briefing. A couple of pearls from the race briefing: Question regarding the wind. "This is Lanzarote. The wind does what it does - deal with it." and Question regarding the choise of wheels. "Use the ones you brought with you." High emphasis was placed on the drafting rules and the number of marshalls on the course as well as explaining the various turns. I knew I would never be in any danger of getting lost, since there would be plenty of cyclist in front of me at all times. I also assembled my bike and did a quick test ride - all worked well.

Friday was spent playing with the kids on the beach and in the sea. My acclimatization swim was taken care of by swimming over to the floating obstacle course (without wetsuit) to play with my elder daughter and I did a little posing shake down run at the promenade in the afternoon to gauge the heat and to check out the bike racking. In the early evening my wife and I went to rack my bike and to generally absorb the nervous vibes. I felt comfortable and relaxed. For some reason I didn't suffer with any real pre-race nerves this time. I managed to sleep relatively well.

Race day started at about 3:45 Am. I had my tried and tested pre-race breakfast and did a little run outside to wake up properly. The cool kiss of the pre dawn air felt good on my skin, yet as I got out of the Villa I realised that the wind had picked up significantly during the night. I resisted the urge to be downhearted or panicky about it, and instead I chose to focus on the task at hand. I picked up the rest of my kit and headed out of the door after having woken up my cheering squad. Atmosphere at transition was frenzied. I quickly pumped up my tyres and got changed into my wetsuit in the toilet queue. I made my way down to the beach via special needs and streetwear bag drops and then it was time to put my game face on.  

Trial by Water - The Swim: 3.8Km 01:15:27 

I found a decent spot in the starting pen, a bit on the right hand side and roughly where I thought 70 minute swimmers would be. After the gun I made my way to the water and dove in. It was evident from the start that this would be a swim like none other I have ever participated in. Unlike the civilized rolling start at IM Taiwan, this was a pure brawl as everyone was sprinting for the first turn. Arms and legs were everywhere and lots of nudges and body shots were delivered and received. I also picked up a couple of elbows in the face. The early pace was frenzied and I really struggled to find a rhythm which led to my breathing being all over the place. I had to consciously try and relax and get myself under control. I found a nice draft and swan next to a lady for the second half of the first lap, matching her stroke to stroke and felt much better. I was out of the water after 34 minutes, bang on schedule, and went around the Australian exit.

lanza swim start

Second lap was a bit slower, about 40 minutes, probably due to less drafts available and slightly bigger swell on the far stretch of the swim course. It was still very busy and there was a lot of contact. I found myself in heavy traffic at every turn buoy. I found that I didn't really need to do much sighting. I was quite happy to rely on the swimmers close to me taking care of that. The couple of times I did check, I found myself dead on target line - which is relatively unusual for me (I tend to zigzag a lot). I felt good all through the swim but I was happy to finally get out of the water.


Transition 1: 00:07:19

The run out to the bike bags and the changing tent wasn't too long, but I definitely needed it to get myself organised and orientated. I grabbed my bag and quickly found an empty seat in the changing tent. I didn't manage to get my feet completely cleaned of all the sand and I missed all of the sun lotion appliers as they were busy. Oh well. I chose to ignore it and to not let it affect my race. I powered on to get my bike.

Trial by Wind - The Bike: 180Km 06:22:13 

Editorial note: I have divided the ride into bite size sections based on topography and other features. They are not in any way official segments, but rather the way I broke the ride down for myself. 

The bike segment starts innocuously enough. First section is a lovely sprint up the promenade through the cheering crowds in Puerto del Carmen - it's almost like the last bit of calm before the storm. True enough, the flavour of things to come can be sampled after the first couple of Km as we started the climb to Yaiza via Tias and Macher. It was a steady trundle up into a gusty side wind yet some people were already finding it tough going. I was steadily overtaking people as I felt very good. I decided to keep doing what I did in training - don't look at the speedo, simply maintain a good cadence and rhythm and that kept my HR and breathing under control as well.

The second section of the course is the loop of El Golfo back to Yaiza. The road surface was pretty good and we were treated to some lovely coastal scenery. The wind again played a role, but it was not as bad as some of the sections. The climb back to Yaiza claimed a few victims as people were slowing down significantly. Temperature was starting to climbs as well around this time as the early clouds dispersed.



Third section from Yaiza to Famara via Timanfaya and La Santa was generally a lot of fun. The climb to fire mountain and the iconic lunar/volcano landscape was not too severe, but there was a little sting in the tail as the climb ramped up a bit. I did get out of saddle for a bit toward the end, mainly to stretch out my back than from any other need. The descents to La Santa and then to Famara were into strong head and side wind and speeds didn't get out of control. There was a lot of leaning into the wind to try and maintain a good angle and to keep the power on the pedals. The most frightening bit was on the descent to Famara, into a strong steady side wind, where a bus on the oncoming lane suddenly cut the wind and then almost blew me sideways as it picked up again. Some quick steering action was required to stay on two wheels. The speed bumps at La Santa village were not really a massive feature at our speeds, yet I did prudently look for the flattest route and bunny hopped a bit to get over them. I can see how they could easily ambush an unwary rider thundering down deep in the aero tuck, though.

The fourth segment was a long steady climb from Famara to Los Nieves via Teguise. Los Nieves is the highest point of the bike course. I say it was a long steady climb, there was a little descent as well, but that was quite insignificant. This climb racks up a total of almost 600m vertical ascend. The climb is quite a gentle gradient, and requires no super human effort, but the little ramp up at the very end did reduce a few people to walking. I needed to get out of saddle and grind the last bit. My standard drive train on the bike worked fine - no need for a compact or a treble. Scenery was lovely again and there was nice support in the town Teguise and scenic farmland on the stretch through Los Valles. There were a few speed bumps Teguise, one of which claimed one of my water bottles. The bottle lauched out of the rear holder directly at a group of kids on the road side. They seemed to find it amusing. I personally would have liked to keep that bottle for the rest of the climb, but then again, maybe the weight reduction was a blessing in disguise.

The fifth segment was a fun segment. This went from Los Nieves to Mirador del Rio at the northern tip of the island via the town of Haria. At the beginning of this segment was Mirador del Haria and the special needs station where I stopped briefly to stock up on food.

Next bit was a technical switch back descent through a series of hairpin turns to Haria. The descent was exhilarating as speeds ramped up and there were a lot of screaming brake pads as people slowed down for the tight turns. Most of the turns were blind, yet they were pretty predictable as you could visualise them from above. The climb from Haria to Mirador del Rio was at a slightly sharper gradient, but nothing unmanageable. My favorite views were when riding the narrow shoulder just before Mirador del Rio. You have a sheer drop to sea level (500m +) on the left, and an almost similar on the right into the valley. The aid station at Mirador del Rio was a bit confusing as they were handing bottles on the left side of the road. I almost fumbled my water bottle but just about managed to keep a hold of it.


The sixth segment was a long stretch from Mirador del Rio to Tahiche via Arrieta. The early part was a long, fast descent where I ran out of gears on a few occasions and had to tuck low and coast. After Arrieta the road reared up again at a manageable gradient all the way to Nazaret but we had a breath of tail wind pushing us along. This was along the main highway of the island and the road surface was immaculate. This section was not closed to traffic and the cars did add a bit of flavour. At least there was something different to look at for a time.


The seventh segment ran from Tahiche to Masdache via Nazaret. This was my least favorite part of the bike course. The first bit is a gentle climb along a highway to Nazaret, after which is the truly horrible road section. It is even worse than Surrey! If I had fillings in my teeth at the start, they surely would have rattled out by the end of the 3km stretch of donkey track. The road was littered with dropped bottles and and nutrition, bearing mute testimony to the bumpy ride. Not exactly a pleasure on a stiff TT frame, very unformiving saddle and tyres pumped up to 120psi. I was getting a bit fed up of riding already and this section slowed me down to a soul destroying crawl. After the donkey track it was back to the undulating and slightly descending highway.


The eight segment started with the final kick up to a village of Tegoyo after a left turn off the highway. This was followed by a lovely rolling desecend down narrow and twisty country lane to Tias. I had read somewhere that this section can be tackled without touching the brakes and I decided to try it out. Some of the swooping bends had limited visibility to them, but I trusted the person who wrote it and simply flew from one corner to another. I only had to feather the brakes once when a cyclist in front was having difficulty picking her line through a corner.

The final segment was the reverse of the first, being the highway descent from Tias to Puerto del Carmen and the last bit on the promenade in front of the screaming horde of supporters.


The bike was where I did most of the damage in this race. It was what I spent most of my time training for and I feel that it paid off. My time of 06:22:13 is not flattering per se, but according to a friend (and Lanza survivor) one should add 1 hour to their Lanza bike split prediction. I was at position 1048 after the swim and managed to claw my way to position 554. This meant that I was overtaking from start to finish. Staying out of the draft zone was not always easy, easpecially in the first half of the ride where there was a lot of traffic and lot of the speedy swimmers were struggling on the bike. I feel that I could have had a better bike split, but for some reason I struggled to get my HR up on the ride. The max HR was 155BPM and average was 136BPM. By rights, I should have pushed harder on the climbs as there was a lot of time to recover on the descends, but my inner pacer kept at comfortable intensity. I guess the idea of that scorching Marathon run was banging at the back of my mind. Rightly so.


Bike nutrition consisted of three energy bars from Paleo Pantry (very nice) and a small bag of peach sweets. I drank mainly water, and had a few gulps of Coke at some of the aid stations. I only had one occasion with a mild hint of cramp, but I managed to shake that one out quickly enough,

Transition 2:  00:06:41

In T2 my bike was taken by a lovely volunteer (just like on TV!!!) and taken to her resting place. I ran on to pick up my run kit. At this point I made a toilet stop. I had been bursting for a pee since La Santa village (around 60Km into bike), but decided to keep going until I either had to stop or ran out of road. T2 came first. Anyway, a quick change into my comfy running shoes, a goodly helping of sun block by the kind volunteer and off I trotted through the start gate. I was feeling fine. 

Trial by Fire - The Run: 42.2Km 04:13:50  

The run consisted of three loops up and down the beach front promenade. First loop was an out and back past the airport, covering a half marathon distance, leaving laps two and three about 10,5Km each. The aid stations were evenly spaced and well stocked throughout. The course was pretty flat, but somehow there was a total of about 350 meters vertical ascend in there.

The first 5km to the short lap turn point were easy. I felt comfortable and I was cruising at a decent clip. I was aware of the heat, which was around 28 degrees at the time, but I was able maintain my pace. The crowd support was great. Not quite on par with the London Marathon, but there was a fantastic buzz nevertheless. The second 5km to the first lap turn around was probably the mentally toughest part of the whole race. It felt like it went on forever. There were very few people about and everyone was suffering in the heat and the wind. This is where I made a mistake. I overhydrated. Simple as that. This made me feel pretty awful on the return to PdC and the start line and I was then forced to take a longish walking break. I recognised the problem and decided to try and let myself dry out a bit by only swirling water in my mouth and spitting it out for about 45 minutes or so and slowly it started to help. Towards the end of the first half I had made up my mind to walk through the aid stations and run in between. The first half of the run took me just over 2 hours.


At this point I met up with John Wragg again. Exactly as it happened last year in IM Taiwan, at the beginning of the second lap I caught up with John starting out his run. He is an absolute legend. One of the only 3 men to have completed EVERY IM Race in the world (as in each location at least once). John was on his way to his 202nd IM finish. Anyway, we had a little chat and I wished him good speed for the rest of the run, he went on to finish in about 16 and half hours. 

The second and third lap were mentally a lot easier. Physically I knew I was hurting as badly as I ever would, and I found it somehow reassuring that it wouldn't get any worse. This lifted my spirits and I was able to get on with the job at hand. I was still walking through the aid stations and keeping a lot closer eye on the volume of fluid I drank. I also had a few bits of banana, which seemed to help me feel a bit better. It was still very warm. I remembered a trick I read somewhere, which was to utilise 4 ice cubes. One down the front of the shorts, one down the back, one over the heart (it stayed nicely on top of my HR strap) and one being passed from hand to hand. It seemed to have worked and I felt a bit easier. The enthusiastic cheering of my family was very welcome and further helped to keep me going. The highfives exchanged with my elder daughter and wife, as well as the kisses blown to my younger daughter to her vantage point at a balcony of one of the restaurants were a real tonic.


I hoped to get under four hours for the marathon, which would have also secured a sub 12 hour finish for the event but alas, it was not to be this time. I did muster a brave sprint finish for the last Km where I must have overtaken another 10 runners and in the end I flew down the finishing chute. I wasn't able to muster too much of a finish line celebration this time. I simply lifted my arms up and soaked up the noise. It was done!


I was tired. I was feeling a bit dizzy. I felt like I had completed an Ironman Triathlon. The pain subsided quickly, leaving weary numbness in its' stead. The legs started to get heavier but my brain was very alert as I shuffled along to collect my finishers T-Shirt and to check my official finishing time. Then I heard the screaming "Daddy Daddy Daddy!!!". My family we waiting just ahead outside of the fence and they were barely able to contain themselves. I picked up my feet, shuffled over and we had a lovely reunion through the fence. Dad had come prepared and popped open a bottle of shampagne and it tasted absolutely lovely.

Summa Summarum: Total Time: 12:05:31 AG Position: 110, Overall Position: 495

 I can now understand why people fall in love with Ironman Lanzarote and come back year after year. There is something magical about it. There is something that is difficult to dress up in words, an elusive quality of near-perfection in this race that made it feel special to me. It was tough. It is not a fast course. The island is not exactly at the top of my list of desirable holiday destinations, but the race itself was great. No doubt I will return.

The main takeaway is that I felt like I put in a decent effort. There was nothing that got in my way to ruin my day. No external / or internal problems that forced me to slow down. It was me racing me. I managed my food better over the few days prior to the race. Even during the race I was more sensible. This ensured that I was not spending long stretches in the toilet.

In Hindsight:

For next time I need to find more time for swimming. I gave up a bit of time from missing out on drafts,especially on the second lap, but this reflects the lack of emphasis on my swimming.

Attack more on the bike. I feel that my slightly conservative strategy on the bike didn't give me the optimal result. I guess a recce ride would have been a good idea, so as to learn that I could attack on the hills because there was ample recovery later. My low HR and low average power on the bike bear testimony to the fact that I did ride too easy.

Suffer more on the run. Simple. Just have to keep plodding on. Now that I've managed to get my guts under control (for the time at least) I have no excuses - man up and suffer. That will further improve my run split.

I will write a more reflective Lessons Learned post again in a few weeks (or months) after I've had time to realyl get over this one.  In the mean time, I will continue doing triathlon and all sorts and I will try and update the blog regularly. Stay tuned. I've got some good stuff coming along!

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