A blast from the past: Ironman Lanzarote 2009 – race report

From 28 May 2009

Success!  I did fantastically well and really enjoyed myself.  The whole day was great.


I woke up at 3:30am and started the day with a 10 minute run.  A really, really slow run.  But it felt good to be out and about.  I then had some toast and jam and waited around for it to go down.  I did forget to put any sun tan cream on.  I felt pretty lousy waiting, thinking I had a cold come on.

The walk to the start took about 30 minutes.  The contrasts between the people in Puerto del Carmen at 5am was stunning.  Lots of people walking calmly in trisuits.  Others tottering in high heels, swearing and a little worse for wear.

I checked my bike, got a few more loo stops in and got changed into the wetsuit.

The swim

This is a two lap sea swim.  We queued up on the beach; all of a sudden we sprinted to the water and swam to the first buoy.  That was ok, a bit of body contact every now and then but generally fine.  I swam hard to start with.  There was a bit more contact at the first turn buoy but not too bad.  Then 20 metres on I got squished big time by the people to left and right of me.  The person in front slowed.  The people behind swam over my legs.  I got very scared.  After about 15 – 30 seconds of this it eased.

I then started looking for feet to swim behind and spent a good chunk of time just looking at bubbles.  After the second buoy it cleared a bit and I started to see what was actually in the sea, including a surprising number of fish.  On the way back there was a bit more body contact and my hat came off and one of my goggles’ eyes filled with water.  I came out of the water in just under 30 minutes.  I sorted my goggles and ran back in to the water.

The second lap was uneventful.  I remember passing a pro.  I wasn’t able to draft as much.  I swam close to the rope behind a few people and there seemed to be a group of people swimming 10m or so to my right, with no one in between.  I wondered why they were so far out.  There were still bubbles in front so I kept swimming.  I did swim into the rope once and a marker buoy later on.  I didn’t sight too much, just followed the bubbles.  Towards the end I saw a helicopter, quite a few fish and a diver.  I couldn’t spot my hat!

I came out of the water in just under an hour.  Both laps were about the same pace, with the second about 30s slower.


I ran up the beach along the carpet.  I had planned to take my wetsuit off under the showers but decided just to carry on up to T1.  This was probably 150m up the beach.  I got my back, took my wetsuit off and allowed a Geordie bloke to put suntan cream on me while I sorted myself out.

I carried my shoes to my bike, grabbed the bike and then ran with it to the exit.  I then put my bike against a barrier, put my shoes on and cycled off.  I didn’t run in the shoes because it was about 400m of running and I could have slipped in cleats or broken them.  It would have been easier to put the shoes on the bike and not worry about carrying them but I have road shoes, not tri shoes, and haven’t practiced having the shoes on the bike.  Next time…


With a quick swim I was expecting a constant stream of people to overtake me.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I didn’t feel good about it but it was expected.

My heart rate was high to start with, and reduced to a sensible level after 20 or so minutes.  I ate then and felt good.

I was then going slightly down hill when someone went past me.  I thought I heard a bang from his bike but it actually came from my front wheel.  I stopped and one of the spokes was missing.  There were only 12 to start with and the wheel was now buckled.  I swore.  Loudly!  I loosened the brake blocks all the way and carried on to the next roundabout where I spoke to the marshal. He couldn’t help so I carried on.

I rode on for another 14 minutes before the second spoke broke.   The wheel was well and truly buckled now.  So I walked.  A stream of people now rode by me.  After 3 minutes of walking I managed to stop a motorbike marshal. They phoned for help but they spoke Spanish so I wasn’t sure what the result was.  So I carried on walking to next aid station.  It turned out to be over 900m away.

By this stage I was feeling relaxed and in a good frame of mind.  I wondered if there were any spaces in the European IM’s – I thought I’d heard that Switzerland had a few spare spaces.

At the aid station a Spanish man with limited English diagnosed my problem (i.e. I needed a new front wheel) and passed me to a nice Spanish woman who had a mobile phone.  She called a few people but couldn’t tell me what they said.  After a while she looked happy and told me to wait.  I wasn’t sure how long to wait!

Then a van drove by, slowed down and I could see two shiny wheels in the back.  I waived frantically because I thought it was just going to drive on.  It stopped and two English blokes got out, swapped my wheels around, adjusted the brake blocks and let me go again.  I was back in business!

Looking over my bike computer, I lost 28:32 from stopping and walking.  With the brakes rubbing and me keeping on looking over my shoulder for another 14 minutes, I am going to round that to 30 minutes.  I lost 30 mins but I was still in the race.  Who needs Switzerland?

I don’t know how many people had gone past me.  I came out of the water in 91st place overall.  I guess another 900 or so people had overtaken me before I got going again.

I started steadily, up to Yaiza and down the fast bit to the salt factory.  I overtook people there doing over 50kph – a nice feeling.  Then we got past the salt factory and the road went through a few ups and downs.  I noticed that I was faster than people on the flat and down bits but slower on the uphills.  I had to be really careful not to stick with people on these short hills.  As a result, I overtook, got overtaken and overtook again.  Generally I stayed ahead of people past El Golfo when it turned consistently uphill.

One thing that first came to mind here was “what’s important now”.  Stopping one person from overtaking me by trying a little harder was definitely not important now.

The wind was nothing to speak of at this stage.  It had rained for a few minutes but was now pretty overcast.  I was watching a rider 50m or so ahead of me and he suddenly moved across to the other side of the road. I gripped tighter.  Then the gust hit me and it felt like I’d hit a wall.

The headwind started properly on the long drag up Fire Mountain.  I just kept plugging away, over taking a few people and being over taken by the odd one.

There is nothing really interesting to say until we left Soo.  I’d been eating every 20 minutes and felt great, really enjoying myself.  Out of Soo, the wind turned into a side wind.  I found it a little tricky keeping a straight line but other people seemed to find it harder, especially when I was just about to overtake them.  Also, with the big drop off the road to the right, no one wanted to ride close to the edge and risk being blown off.

The road out of Famara was lovely.  It is slightly uphill, a nice road surface and very quiet.  This was the first time for ages that I had the wind against my back.  It was peaceful.  I was riding a consistent pace, steadily overtaking people and I was definitely in a good frame of mind.  Looking at my forearms I could see sweat drops appearing. They weren’t being sucked away by the wind. It reminded me to drink more.

The ride up Haria was fine.  This was the highest point of the ride and I just rode consistently by feel.  Again, I was surprised about how people could easily beat me up the shorter, steeper climbs but that I would get away from them when to road eased a little. On the longer climb, I just kept plugging away.  Eating every 20 minutes, drinking regularly.  We got to the top of Haria quicker than I thought.

Next was the twisty downhill, again I overtook people.  At Haria I saw a friend and carried on up to Mirador del Rio, the second highest point at the far end of the island.  The view on the way up the top was spectacular.  I was definitely on a high in more ways than one.  Again, I found myself riding consistently well.

At the aid station someone fell over in front of me.  I think he couldn’t get his feet out of his peddes quick enough.  Fortunately a load of volunteers were helping him so I got my water bottles and carried on.

The road downhill was fast. Sometimes it wasn’t in too good condition, sometimes it was beautifully smooth.  My left triceps had been hurting a little from being in the aero position for so long but I took the opportunity to shake it a bit every now and then.  After a while I got stuck behind two cars for a bit but they didn’t slow me too much. Then on to the LZ-1 road, a super duper smooth road.  With the wind behind me I went fast, overtaking lots of people.

We then started to go uphill and this was my cue to increase the intensity a bit.  I think I did a little but not as much as I wanted.   Then the road turned from nice to horrible and I spent about 10 minutes out of the aero position because I was taking such a pounding on the rough road.

There were signs on the course saying how far you have been.  These were in the wrong place and so it made it look like you were further long the course than you thought.  I was now unsure as to how far I had been.  I knew they were overstating the distance that I’d been.  But when the 175k mark came by, I thought we had a lot further to go.  Soon after a German guy asked me how far we had been.  My computer said 150k, his said 153k.  I was in such a good mood that I was actually disappointed that the bike course was so short – It turned out that it wasn’t!

With the rough roads I didn’t increase the intensity enough before we started hitting the downhill bits.  Some of these were fast.  Some had lots of corners that I wasn’t sure about.  So I took it a bit safe.

It wasn’t long after that before I saw all the runners and got to T2.


I took my shoes off, ran with my bike until I got to the 800’s and handed my bike to someone.  Then I ran and got my bag and noticed the loos opposite – an opportunity too good to miss.

In the transition tent someone offered to cover me in suntan cream so I accepted before running out.


The run is four laps of an out-and-back course.  It is pretty flat but there are a few little hills.

I carried two gels with me and started running, trying to keep the pace down. I didn’t want to run too fast at this stage as I know I run faster than I think after a long bike.  I overtook a few people but got overtaken by more.

As soon as I started I got “Go on Mark”, “looking good Mark” and so on.  It took me a while to catch on that I didn’t know these people but that they read my name that was written with my race number.  It felt fantastic to get personalised support.

I noticed people had different coloured wrist bands but did not know what colours were which.  After 8 minutes or so I spotted my family.  It was great to see them!

By about 20 minutes I started to get pins and needles in both feet.  I was expecting this.  It’s not nice but something that happens after long bike rides.

At the turn around point I was a few minutes up on my sub-4 hour target but I had to stop to massage my feet.  I did it through my shoes and so it wasn’t a long stop.  Then I realised that my HR strap was still on – I had planned to take that off in T2.  I also was managing to drink water and run at the same time, thanks to pinching the top of the cups together.  The next time I passed my family, I ditched the HR strap and my fuel belt.

Most of the time I was running the sun was hidden by clouds.  But when the clouds went by, it became very hot very quickly.

I got my first wrist band, a red one, to say I had done one lap.

The first two hours of the rim were focused on keeping going, keeping on track for a sub-4 hour run.  I carried on running through the aid stations, eating gels and water.  My tummy felt sore and so I tried banana chunks but they didn’t help.  I started thinking that I might have to stop because my tummy hurt.  Then I thought why is my tummy so special that it deserves to get me to stop?  My legs and feet are hurting and I am not stopping for them!

I tried to pace myself with my breathing.  Running at an intensity that meant I was breathing noisily but not too hard.  It was difficult to concentrate on this and so I sometimes looked at the pace on my gps.  When I looked at it, I invariably decided to push the pace up a little.

The last half of the second lap was spent concentrating on the cola. I didn’t have any but I gave myself permission to have it on laps 3 and 4.  I then stopped eating the gels and banana chunks and moved on to the coke.  I also started walking through the aid stations (but only from where they handed the coke out until I drank it – I didn’t dawdle).  I wanted to make sure that I drank it all.

I got my blue wrist band – two laps done.  Only the yellow wrist band to collect.

I was still on target for sub-4 hours but it was getting close.

I kept on seeing my family each lap but missed them on lap 3.  At the start of lap 4 I saw them.  I got a high five that carried a mint with it.  It tasted great but the coke that followed wasn’t!  One of the aid stations also gave out flat coke mixed with water.  That didn’t taste good either.

At the start of lap 4 I increased the pace a little.  But I still walked for the cola.  I had been running with a few people who I passed or passed me regularly depending if they walked with a drink or not.  These people didn’t overtake me now.  I also had my yellow wrist band on that meant that I was authorised to run the fastest on the course.  When I started the people with the yellow band ran past me really quickly.  Well now I had the yellow band!

About one-third of the way through the outwards part of lap 4 a muscle in the back part of my left leg played up. I rubbed it but within a minute I did it again.  NOOOOOooooo!  So I stopped and rubbed it for about 10 seconds. It was ok.

I increased the pace just after the last drink station on the outwards part of lap 4.  At the turn around point my pace was as fast as I could manage.  I was breathing hard.  I was hurting.  But it was a good hurt.  I had a goal.  I wanted a sub-4hr run.  But more than that, I had always planned to run the last part hard.  I knew that it was going to hurt but I knew that I would much rather take a bit longer to recover than to say, I did the run in 4 hours and 1 second.  So I ran.  I ran my heart out.  I didn’t stop.  I ran around the aid stations because there were so many people walking.  I kept running hard.  At the last aid station I grabbed some water.  I didn’t slow.  Most of it went over my top. But that felt right.  I was running hard and I didn’t care about all the water going in my mouth.

I was overtaking lots of people.  I was overtaking people with the fast yellow wrist band.  No one overtook me that last lap.  Then I could see the finish.  I couldn’t see my family but for the first time I was allowed to go down the finish chute rather than be told to turn around and do it again.  Then my kids appeared.  They had slipped in behind me so I slowed.  They caught up and then Jack shouted “Sprint!” so I did. Jack got a lead but I beat him to the tape.  I had done it!

Sub-4 hours!

The numbers

Based on the 1,142 finishers, I did:

Swim: 59:37        80th (7th percentile)

T1: 5:27 184th (16th percentile)

Bike: 6:58:55       737th (65th percentile)

T2: 7:54                 641st (56th percentile)

Run: 3:56:09       370th (32nd percentile)

Overall: 12:08:02 484th (42nd percentile)

If I deduct the 30 min from the bike, then:

                Bike: 6:28:55 – 506th (44th percentile)

                Overall: 11:38:02 – 375th (33rd percentile)

These numbers do not include the 99 people who did not finish.


After the race I gulped down an energy drink I was given and went for a massage.  I discovered a big blood blister on the ball of my left foot. It probably happened because I had pins and needles and couldn’t feel the ground properly.  The worst thing was the sunburn.  I found out later that night that I got really bad sunburn on the edge of my tri top.  The suntan cream people had been really good and put it everywhere except on the edge of my tri top.  A few days later, it is still painful to sit my back on a chair or lay on my back.

Why did the spokes break?  I don’t know.  The same wheel did the same thing to me at IMUK in 2005.  There I lost 45 minutes.  I got the spoke fixed and the wheel hasn’t given me any problems over the last four years.  I’ve used it on every ride for the last three months or so.  Looking back, I hit a pothole quite badly on a 7 hour ride to the New Forest three weeks ago.  It may have been that.  I have probably ridden 20 hours on the wheel since then without any problems.  Why did it happen now?  I don’t know.  I do know I will never use the wheel again though!

The wheel didn’t spoil the race for me.  I focused on what’s important now.  I carried on and had a great time.  In fact, I can’t think of a race that I enjoyed more.  Lanzarote is supposed to be the toughest ironman in the world. It may well be. But I think that the training that I have done to get me here, together with the buzz and sheer enjoyment that I got from it made it easy.  I am not saying it was easy.  Definitely not!  But mentally it was the easiest race that I have ever done.

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