I signed up for this half nearly 3 months ago, and we originally planned to make a family trip out of it. My wife and I both speak Spanish, and a destination Triathlon in the Spanish Canary Islands seemed like a perfect trip for the two of us. Having said that, were it just the two of us, it would have been perfect. With three kids now however, two of which are over two years old, flying costs are much higher (double). Hotel prices in Europe in general are expensive, but when you have more than two kids, the price jumps considerably. Having three kids is rare, so the rooms you have to pay for are usually luxury style or suites or set up for a few families instead of just one. So because of this crazy cost increase, and because of the difficult experience my wife had containing our kids desire to jump in the river at the last triathlon while I was racing, we decided I would go alone. This was both good and bad. I like seeing my family at the finish line, but vacations with toddlers is a lot of work. On that note while on Lanzarote, if I left the room to go anywhere, I always felt like I was forgetting something. “…Wallet, cell phone, room key, passport, binkie, oh wait, I don’t need the binkie...”
The race was on a Saturday, but the cheapest flight was on Wednesday. It was also at 7:30 am out of Munich. This required that I get up at 3:30 to make it to the airport by 5:30. All went smoothly in that regard and I loved the Airport Express bus from Ingolstadt to the Munich Airport. The flights went fine, but I will try what I can to not fly Iberia again. They lost my bag and I felt the customer service was far below what I would consider an average flying experience.
I rented a vehicle at the Lanzarote airport as a taxi to and from the resort where the race was held would have cost roughly the same price, and I wanted a little freedom to explore the island. After about 30 minutes on the island I had sweat completely through my Germany weather appropriate clothing, and my change of clothes was located somewhere at the airport in Madrid. So, after checking into my room my solution was to find the cheapest swimsuit available and couple it with some 2€ flip flops from the grocery store. The swimsuit ended up being a Speedo. When in Europe right?
The days leading up to the race seemed to drag on, and with the full taper in effect, I didn’t have long training sessions either. I finished a few E-Books, and participated in both the English and Spanish pre-race briefings. The goody bags handed out were rather nice and contained some high quality stuff. I guess that should be expected considering the entry fee.
Club La Santa
This Ironman 70.3 event was facilitated by a Sports oriented Hotel on the North Shore of Lanzarote named Club La Santa. This was a very new experience for me, and a little weird as an active vacation to me feels somewhat akin to a “fat farm”. Why would I need to spend a lot of money to stay in a place where they tell me how to work out? However, having been there for nearly a week, I can see its allure. Bikes, pools, windsurfing, tennis, squash, aerobics, yoga, karate, spas, exercise equipment and many other activities were possible at this resort. There were also triathlon specific training camps available at this resort during the course of the year. I imagine the week of my stay; the overall average BMI for the people staying at the hotel was exceedingly lower than at any other time during the year due to the fact that most people that were there were going to do the 70.3. You could figure out who was a triathlete by tri suit specific tan lines and a white bracelet they had us wear. The bracelet also allowed us to enter the pasta party the night before. Overall the experience of Club La Santa was a good one, but probably not one I would do without the associated race.
Having set up my transition area the night before and hung my bags on the appropriate hooks, my Pre-Race was rather simple. I dressed in the morning in my tri shorts and tri top and carried my wetsuit to the transition area. I checked the bike to assure all was in order, and ate a power bar. Roughly thirty minutes before the race start, I pulled my wetsuit up to my waist and walked with my 2€ flip-flops to the swim start. I was pulling the top of my wetsuit on inadvertently right next to the two professional athletes that would battle for the win later, and only noticed such because a camera man swooped in to film them and little old me. I exited the scene quickly screen left. I guess if you have your last name on your tri-suit underneath BMC or Specialized, you might have your pre-race routine filmed. That’s gotta be annoying.
Both male and female professional triathletes started together 3 minutes before everybody else. Some of them wanted to start 4 minutes before everybody else and this false start required a restart. It allowed some pretty good levity for me being that the realization that even the Pros make mistakes was refreshing. When they did start, I was impressed with how fast they actually swim. I could also tell that some of them wanted to get out front to avoid the washing machine effect. After the not long enough eternity of 3 minutes a loud horn signaled for the rest of us to start.
The swim was in a Lagoon next to Club La Santa. The ground in this tidal lagoon was an undulating soft mud ocean particulate composition. Because of the undulation, you could stand at some points of the swim if you wanted to, and not touch the bottom at other points. Some people chose to stand and maybe run? I guess this, because at some points it was like swimming through sea soup. I figured I would be slow in the swim and I was right on my realistic goal of 2:00 per 100 meters. I wasn’t at all tired by the time I finished, but I had enough swimming through particulate. As I exited the swim I noticed the running clock somewhere in the 38th minute. OK, good!
The hike to transition was just that; a hike! I walked most of the way and spent some time taking the top of my wetsuit off and shoving my cap and goggles down a sleeve. It took some time getting the left sleeve over the fenix2 as I had assumed would be the case and in the process my right hand cramped up. Weird! After some 500 meters of walking through the grounds of Club La Santa, the transition area was navigated. After getting my suit off I sat down at the first available bench to put on my cycling shoes, but try as I might, I couldn’t pull my socks on. My right hand cramped shut when I tried to grab the socks and putting socks on without opposable thumbs was impossible for me in the moment. Eventually I had everything on, and ran to my bike. I had a foreboding feeling due to the hand cramps as that was a first for me. Total time in T1 due to the hand cramps was nearly 6 minutes. Not good!
It felt good to get on the bike, and though this was a rented bike, because I had my saddle, pedals and my seat height, it all felt like home. It actually felt a little better as the wheel set was a tad faster than what I usually raced with. I knew that roughly 60 percent of the AG folks were ahead of me because of my slow swim and eternal T1, but I slowly started passing them in handfuls. I didn’t feel like I was going too fast, but I had to look down at my heart rate regularly to assure I was still within my prescribed zones. On this 70.3 bike route everybody talks about the category 2 climb to Tabeyesco, and understandably so, but the other climbs during this route are not to be overlooked. The first climb to Soo seemed to claim quite a few small chain rings to big cog combinations. I have a rather high cadence (>95rpm) when cycling and when climbing this sometimes limits my performance for lack of gearing. I did not, however, max out my cog on these first climbs. Throughout the first 45 kilometers I didn’t get passed by anyone who I didn’t eventually pass again. My average was hanging around 30 and 31 kmph, and I was pleased with that. Something I didn’t like was the condition of the road in certain places. Riding the road in those spots with a fully suspended Mt. Bike would have still rattled you bones. Wow! Raise your taxes a little more so I can have a more pleasant 3 hour bike ride please! One such spot was a traffic circle just before the climb. I saw water bottles and other bike attachable paraphernalia on the side of the road in this area after succumbing to the beating.
Up to the climb I had kept myself hydrated, and eaten 2 gels and one power bar. My HR was exactly in the zones I wanted to be in too. As I started the climb, I noticed the observatory at the top and decided to just keep the zones good and forget about the time. A humorous thing I heard was from a woman I passed mid-climb. As a race official on a motor cycle was passing her she flagged him down and simply asked if he would check her back tire to see if it was flat. Yep, I feel it too lady. It’s not your tire, it’s your legs. Mine too! The kilometer auto splits were buzzing through very slowly at this point, and way above what I had hoped for, but my main goal was to keep my HR in the zone. It was also at this point that I was noticing how hot it had all of the sudden become. The wind protected canyon was stifling. I was losing a lot of hydration through sweat, but I wasn’t thirsty. I consistently drank, and took a bottle from the people at every aid station. I was also very glad that I had chosen the road bike with detachable aero bars for this course. I needed the compact crank and the different hand positions for this 10 kilometer long climb. At this point I also noticed that I had stopped passing people, and slowly some of them were passing me back. During the last few switchbacks near the top, I seemed to run out of gas, and my HR spiked. I shifted to the biggest cog and attempted to get my HR back down. As I summited I noticed that I was really sluggish, and almost spent. I enjoyed the descent, but only passed a few people as a few switchbacks needed to be negotiated as well. Upon hitting the short incline before getting back to the town of Teguise, my quads and calves locked up and would not let me drive through it. I almost had to get off the bike to stretch it out. With such pain in my legs I couldn’t get my HR back up to the zones I wanted. So I suffered on. This HR knowledge gave me my body’s response to overwork. When I am overworked I can’t get my HR back into the higher zones no matter how I might try. This realization (obtained after the race) made me realize why those trainer rides never seemed successful if my legs were dead beforehand.
With about 30 km left to go I was slightly panicking. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get my legs back to the transition area let alone running a half marathon after that feat. I was going extremely slowly at this point, and I started getting passed by some of those individuals I had passed awhile back. My legs were screaming at me to stop, but I was rationalizing that the cramps would go away as soon as the next gel kicked in. At this point the wind from the North started to pick up and even the downhill from Teguise to Caleta de Famara was an extreme battle if any slight incline showed up. Slowly I trudged on and eventually got to Soo. At kilometer 87, it was finally for sure all downhill from there on out. It was at least three kilometers of good speeds, and rest, and leg assessment. Though my bike was about 40 minutes slower than what I expected I attributed much of that to the cramping and hill, and I kept my HR within the zones I had envisioned.
Coming into T2 as for exhaustion levels and energy, I felt fine. Cramps are a really strange phenomenon as though painful they don’t drain too much energy unless they are long lasting and consistent (foreshadowing). I filled up with water and made the transition rather quickly considering I was cramping while walking. As I made it around the track I noticed the running clock somewhere in the 4 hours and 20 minutes range. Crap! A PR would be needed for me to get a Sub 6 hour race. Not happening!
Run (i.e. Walk)
As I made it out of the track and onto the course, I noticed I couldn’t really run for longer than 200 meters without my legs (hamstrings, calves, and shin-splints) seizing. This caused for a game of leap frog with some other participants. I really even didn’t get to settle into a good pace before they would seize again. After they locked up, I would walk until they felt like I could run again for an extended amount of time. I would do so again only for approximately another 200 meters before I locked up again. During the first lap the course was full of contestants with a varying number of bracelets of the colors yellow, blue and red. It seemed like an eternity until I got that blue bracelet to accompany the yellow one. My blue lap had decreased to a fast walk lap with a run on the downhill sections if possible. My red lap was my red zone lap. I could not run at all without seizing, and once I fell to the ground to try to get it worked out. By the time I got to the last uphill section before entering back into the Club La Santa complex, my toes, eyelids and cheek muscles were starting to cramp. Wow! The volunteers kept saying stuff like, “just a little bit left”, “you got this!” I couldn’t talk or explain that I was walking like a cat on eggshells because any other way and I couldn’t walk. This wasn’t a lack of endurance thing, and me just in pain because I was exhausted, on the contrary my heart felt good, and were it not for the cramping becoming so systematic and draining at this point, I could have held the same effort all day if needed. My legs just refused to run, and then walk excepting a very specific “I don’t want to cramp” walk. Finally I was on the track and rounding the turn to the finish. I tried to jog over the line, but my body wasn’t having it. I crossed seeing the time of 7 hours and 27 minutes.
The race director met me at the finish line and shook my hand, but also immediately called the medical personnel over. He obviously had experience with the significance of the pain on my face. They took me to the medical tent, and had me lie down. I still went through surges for the next 30 minutes. I then slowly felt things relaxing, and almost immediately I needed to urinate. I gingerly made it to the toilet and relieved myself for nearly as long as T1 took me earlier that day. OK, so I wasn’t dehydrated. I then made it to the massage area and got in line. I felt bad for the individuals that had to rub my salty sweaty legs down, but I didn’t care too much. It felt good, but they could have pushed harder as my cramps ran deep. Afterwards I ate well, and went to bed at 8:00 pm.
Right after the race I was scared, frustrated and eventually a little sad. I became sad and somewhat despondent because I felt like the only answer to my cramping was that I give up doing triathlons altogether or at least to quit participating in long distance triathlons. I was frustrated because my overall time was almost 2 hours longer than what I expected. Frustrating because my fitness, endurance and speed are the best they have ever been. Yeah, with hindsight I can see it is somewhat impressive that I even finished considering the body-encompassing-debilitating-cramps, but only somewhat impressive. Anybody with considerable fitness can walk 21 kilometers. I was scared because this cramping was systemic and covered almost all possible muscle groups of my body. Does this possibly mean something else about my body that I don’t yet know? Can systemic cramping cause permanent damage? Questions I will continue to research.
Yeah, it is said that the Lanzarote 70.3 is the most difficult 70.3 in the world because of the climbing, heat, and wind, but that still didn’t make the barely finish feel gratifying. Only time removed has tempered the bad taste in my mouth from my body’s inability to function the way I wanted it to function. I also imagine that more time and more research into cramping will make it eventually become a “learning experience”. Even now, less than only 2 weeks later, I am planning next season’s schedule. I am not going to give up triathlons nor rule out the possibility of doing another 70.3, and in fact on a 70.3 the improvement gap could be huge! I am always impressed how fast the human body forgets physically painful experiences when accomplishments or rewards are also involved. Though not comparable to doing triathlons, my wife quickly forgets the pains of labor and birth when holding or cuddling the newly born reward. I guess if the memory of the pain overruled, the reward wouldn’t hold enough lure.
Was it overall a good experience? Yeah, sure. Will I do another 70.3 or Half Ironman? Most likely. Will I continue to try to figure out my cramping issue? Yes. Would I recommend the Lanzarote 70.3 as a destination triathlon? You bet, it was a great venue.