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IRONMAN LANZAROTE ‘The Toughest Ironman in the World’

After a 3 hour delay leaving Bristol and the announcement that our cases and bikes would not be on the flight, Ironman Lanzarote race week couldn’t have got off to a worst start. When we eventually arrived in Arrecife, EasyJet had promised that our luggage would arrive on the next flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 17.00 that evening from Luton. We decided to pick up the car hire and check into our apartment, before driving back to the airport that evening to pick up our belongings. We travelled back to the airport at 17.00 to only be told that our luggage was not on the flight from Luton, but would be on the next flight from Gatwick the following morning. This was extremely frustrating as the only possessions we had, were the clothes we travelled in. We had no choice, but to wait until the next morning and buy essentials to tie us over until then. Third time of travelling back to the airport in the hope of getting our luggage and yep you guessed it, Nothing. By this time there were hundreds of angry passengers, most of whom were competing in the Ironman. Not being able to train for 3 days leading into an Ironman race is not ideal and extremely dampening for your confidence. We were told that the luggage was now being flown in from Liverpool that night. Luton, then Gatwick and now Liverpool. What an earth was going on? Back to the apartment we went and then on the fourth time of asking, we headed back to the airport to retrieve our cases. By this time I wasn’t very confident of getting anything and was actually thinking we weren’t going to be able to compete. Low and behold after a couple of hours hanging around the airport, our cases, kit and bikes were there. Thank goodness for that. Not receiving our belongings until then was a nightmare, but being blatantly lied to and kept in the dark, was beyond forgiveness. Anyway onto the race.

The morning of the race was quite relaxed and as we were only staying a 5 minute walk from the start line, we were able to rack our bikes and return to the room to change into our wetsuits. Myself and Catrin, who was competing in her first Ironman, walked down towards the start line, when we realised that the streetwear bag that had our clothes in, had to be hung on the hooks with our bike and run bags. With only 10 minutes to get the streetwear bag into transition and get back out onto the beach ready for the start, I decided that I would run down, hang the bag and run back up to meet Cat to walk over to the start line. During this time we lost a pair of goggles, which was another setback. Luckily Catrin had packed 2 spare pairs, just in case something like this happened. Once I hanged the bag, I started running back up the ramp to meet Cat, when I went over on my ankle. First the cases, then the goggles and now this. Could our luck get any worse. I carried on running and met Catrin, when I stopped and my ankle was in real pain. I said to Catrin that I wasn’t sure I would be able to run on it, as it was causing me pain to walk on. She said that I have come this far and to just see how it was during the swim. I agreed and we made our way down to the beach. I gave Catrin a huge hug and kiss and wished her all the luck in the world. I whispered to her to stay strong and made my way to the start. As I had qualified as an All World Athlete (AWA), I was given priority at the front of the group, just behind the Pros. Catrin positioned herself in the 70 minute marker. To be quite honest, the swim start was a shambles. It was a mass start, where everyone’s timing chips went off exactly the same time, no matter where you started on the beach. It worked much better in Ironman Wales, where the timing mat was placed at the waters edge and your chip wouldn’t start until you made your way over the mat. Having a mass start and everyone’s chip starting the same time, encouraged weaker swimmers to start closer to the water’s edge, to give them an extra couple of minutes leeway. The only plus of the AWA athletes and myself in particular was I had the pros in my sight and swimmers to hunt down. At least that was the plan. I had a target time of 48 minutes. This was based on swimming 1 loop of the course on the previous day in a time of 23 minutes, at a comfortable pace.

The gun went off and I made a dart for the water’s edge. A lot of swimmers past me entering the water and it was a real struggle to get a good position. I tried to swim around 10 metres to the right of the first buoy, but the number of bodies jostling for position was ridiculous. I didn’t feel great during the first lap and I lost the front group of swimmers very quickly. I exited the water and ran across the sand, had a quick glance at my watch and it showed 25.10. I was way off where I wanted to be and knew I had to up the pace if I wanted to be out in a decent time. The second lap was worse than the first. I managed to overtake around 10 swimmers and heading out to the second buoy, I completely lost my bearings. I couldn’t see a thing and the next thing I knew a boat was sounding its horn. I looked up and treaded water for 10 seconds, to find out I was around 200m off course. Shit, I quickly changed direction and swam diagonally back in towards the beach to join the rest of the swimmers. The rest of the swim was tough, arms and legs flying everywhere and for once in my life, I couldn’t wait to get out of the water and onto the bike.

Finally, I reached the water’s edge and stopped my watch in 51.45. Disappointed is an understatement. I was furious with myself. I know I am capable of a 48-49 swim and at a comfortable pace, so to be nearly 4 minutes off that was embarrassing.

T1 was on the beach, which made it quite difficult to avoid sandy feet getting onto the bike. No real problems in T1, 3.18 and onto the bike I went. For some reason, I always get cramp in my stomach when getting out of the sea and onto the bike and it was no different on this occasion. I stretched out and got on with the job in hand. The first 7-8 miles were all uphill and around 1200ft of climbing. Looking down at my Garmin, I was averaging 13 mph and immediately thought, oh god Catrin is going to struggle with this. The wind was blowing straight at me, which made it even harder. I was averaging around the 300-watt mark for the first 10 miles. The Ironman Bike course is known to be extremely tough and until you experience it, I don’t think you can understand just how tough it is.

I didn’t feel great on the first half of the bike and said to myself that I was just going to go through the motions and finish the race, not worrying about time or position. I arrived at the first aid station and was really disappointed with the bottles that were supplied. I grabbed one bottle from a volunteer to find it only half full. I missed the second bottle and was forced to carry on with half a bottle of energy drink. I thought to myself that maybe that bottle, in particular, was a one-off and that the rest of them were actually full. This wasn’t the case at all, because, by the time I reached the second aid station, the next bottle I received was also half full. I was getting really fed up at this point and tried to switch off and just enjoy the scenery. Climbing up Mirador was a sight I had been looking forward to since the day I entered and the view at the top of the climb was beautiful. It was a struggle to get to the top, but worth it for the

views. The wind had picked up by this point and taking a glance at the Garmin, my NP was 280 watts and average speed 18.5mph. I was quite happy with that considering the conditions and how I felt. My nutrition was going well, all part from the fluid. I hadn’t taken on anywhere near enough, due to the feed stations and missing an opportunity of a bottle at one of the stations.

I battled on and at around the 90-mile mark is where there is a turnaround point, where you can see the athletes in front of you coming back the other way. I took the turn and saw the Lead riders returning towards me. This gave me a bit of motivation to push on for the next 20 miles. I eventually arrived into T2 with a bike time of 5.30.17 and an average speed of 20.4mph. I was pleased with that time, considering I felt dreadful the whole way. T2 was also on the beach, but the run down the ramp was quite difficult. I managed to get into T2 without any mishaps, gave my bike to a volunteer and made my way into the tent. T2 – 3.09.

Onto the run and I had a target time in my head, which I set out at to see how long I could hold it for. Being this early in the season, I hadn’t put in a lot of work, so it was a test to see how far I could get at this pace. The run leg is a 10km run out to the airport, 10km back and then 2 loops of 5km out and 5km back. The first 10km out and back was by far the hardest part of the run, as there was no support and it was a lonely point in the race. I was on target for the first 12 miles and that’s where it all went downhill. The heat and the headwind on the run made it very difficult to maintain the target pace. My legs felt heavy and I just wanted to stop and walk. I kept thinking of Catrin and how she might be doing.  I reached the 21km mark and collected my yellow wristband and from that point on it was literally a run, walk, stop. I carried this on for the next 10km. Not knowing anyone personally out there made it really tough for me. I had all my family with me in Tenby and a load of friends supporting and that got me through the run without walking once. This was a different story. My head wasn’t in it and I just wanted to get to the finish line. Catrin and I had discussed before the race that she would probably be coming into T2 by the time I was finishing, but as I was ‘shuffling’ down towards the last lap, I saw a bright yellow try suit with Nathan Ford Triathlon written across the front and a beaming smile from Catrin waving at me. I will never forget that moment. I was so proud and so happy to see her. We passed each other and I shouted to her ‘Well done, absolutely amazing, keep it going’. Just seeing her for a split second gave me second wind and I ran the rest of the run leg well within my target pace. It just goes to show that a little thing like seeing your wife and a familiar face, can give you an enormous boost. I came into the last 200m and it was a massive relief to finish the race. Runtime 3.35.06. This was 15 minutes off my target for the run. Total time 10.03.33.

I didn’t hang around at the finish line, I walked straight up to the apartment, got showered and changed and walked back down to support Catrin and Wilf, one of my Athletes, who was also competing.

I positioned myself at the 1km marker and kept an eye out for Catrin and Wilf. After about 30 minutes I could see Catrin running towards me. I was beaming from ear to ear. I was so proud and so impressed with how well she was doing. I ran for about half a km with her, trying to give her as much praise and confidence I could. My legs gave way again and she carried on with her second lap. As Catrin went out on her second lap, I got a glimpse of Wilf coming in towards the last 1km of the race. He was walking at this point with his wife and kids by his side. I knew how much pain he was in, so I ran over and shouted at him to start running and don’t stop until you hit that finish line. ‘1km Wilf Come on, that’s all it is’ He started running and never looked back. Wilf came to me around 16 weeks before the race, looking for some guidance and structure to his training. He set a target of Sub 12 hours. We had a plan for Lanza and he performed exceptionally well, finishing in 11.48.09. I was so pleased, not only with his determination and execution of the race but with all the hard work he has put into the lead-up. As I said before the conditions were extremely challenging and to get a sub 12-hour finish in his first Ironman is brilliant. A lot of lessons learnt for Wilf and I know he is capable of a faster time.

Catrin had now started her last lap and was still plugging away. I honestly thought that she would be walking by this point, but yet again she amazes me and she was running with grit and determination. Catrin said to me 12 weeks prior to the race, ‘Do you think I would be able to do Ironman Lanzarote?’ I honestly thought she was referring to 2019, but no, she was talking about 2018. I knew she had the ability to complete the race, but I thought it would just be within the cut off time. She ran past me and I ran alongside her for a few minutes, saying that she had done all of the hard work and this was the final hurdle. She ran out to the 5km turnaround and I waited at the 1km marker. When she returned and I could see her running towards me, I felt really emotional and so proud. I said to her to not look back and get yourself to that finish line and enjoy the red carpet. I tried to run behind her, but my legs had other ideas. I could hear the announcer call over the tannoy ‘CATRIN FORD, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’ I screamed at the top of my voice and punched the air. She had done it and not only that but smashed her target time, finishing in 15.20.43. I made my way to the finish line and saw Catrin still smiling and walking around. How can she be looking so fresh I thought. I gave her a massive hug and squeeze and told her how proud I was of her. To complete the toughest Ironman in the World, with only 12 weeks of training is an unbelievable achievement and for someone who hates running, I still can’t believe it.

The only thing I didn’t appreciate from this achievement is that Catrin finished 9th in her age group and I finished 14th in mine. She now says, ‘basically I’m better than you’ Oh great she’s playing that card now. To be fair, ill give her that one, she did it and she can have that bragging right.

So now onto the question, a lot of people have asked me. Which race is harder Ironman Wales or Ironman Lanzarote?

In my opinion, 100% Ironman Lanzarote is the hardest of the two and I’ll explain why. Training over the winter for a race in May, limited open water training, due to the cold temperatures, the hills, the wind, the heat, the mass swim start and the lonely run out to the airport. As Jesse Thomas quoted, Ironman Lanzarote is definitely “The toughest Ironman in the World”

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