The Ironman 70.3 Portugal in Cascais was my main goal of the season. I certainly haven't had many more careers this year, although the ones I have done have been with very positive results, especially with best mark in 10K (which left me melted...).
The preparation for this Ironman 70.3 has been quite solid, starting from last April. And as in every preparation you always do it to try to meet some approximate times for those you think you have trained. For me these were my goals in each of the segments:
- Swimming: 35 minutes of quiet time to get out on the bike
- Cycling: 2:45 for a profile of about 900m of ascent
- Race: 1:45 in case of a totally flat half-marathon
- Transitions: In the end it all depends on the transition area, location and so on... but approximately 7 minutes in total
With these simple calculations I was able to set a target time of 5:22, applying a scale of 10 minutes up and down, because one thing is the estimated times and another very different how the race is developed and the particular circumstances that occur in any competition.
The procedure for collecting bibs and preparing the box is clearly marked in advance, leaving no room for last-minute surprises (or so I expected). The days before the event you must go through the fair to collect your bibs, always going through the official store where they sell commemorative products at prohibitive prices. And yes, we all fall like flies, we are that simple.
In the case of Cascais the area was located next to the finish line in a large tent, and on the outer perimeter small tents for the exhibitors of the fair. When you arrive you set yourself the challenge of reaching the area of collection of bibs without biting in any of these posts. But it's like being at a barbecue with friends and say you're on a diet. It's in vain, you know that sooner or later you will fall because your mind is weak.
Once in possession of the race bibs, runner's bag (in this case including a medium sized Ironman backpack) and other documentation there are two things to do: leave all the material in the transition area and attend the pre-race briefing. This is usually done the day before the race.
I arrived in Portugal on Friday - the race was on Sunday - so after dropping everything off at the rented apartment we went downtown to pick up our bibs and do some sightseeing. We decided to have dinner there (pasta, of course) before going home and, after leaving the restaurant, we found ourselves in a real gale. The wind was blowing very strongly through the streets of this small coastal town. A few hours later the Ironman organization was going to send an email to all the participants informing us that the delivery of material was suspended, setting us up for the same day of the race. We would pick up the chip on Saturday to speed up the entry of material on Sunday.
What did that mean? It meant that the transition zone would open earlier and that we would have to get up early (even earlier) to prepare everything on the same day.
On Sunday the alarm clock rang at 4:05 in the morning... The idea was to be able to have a quiet breakfast and arrive at the transition zone around 5:30 in the morning, in anticipation of possible crowds when the 2,200 registered participants intended to prepare our transition zone.
After pedaling in I was able to leave everything set up in my transition areas, bike in one corner and bags in the opposite corner. No, I had no luck with the location assignment :(. I had arrived quite early and there was no problem with queues, so before 6 a.m. I had everything set up. It wasn't until 6:55 that I started the possibility of warming up in the water, staying an hour ahead to do... nothing.
I just sat and watched the time go by, while I had a bar and a carbohydrate-loading drink, watching the incessant trickle of people in the transition area. At that time it was quite cool, so I opted to put on some socks and flip-flops, the latest in "cool" fashion. And as the cold continued in the end I opted to wrap up warm with the other thing I had on hand: neoprene.
And there I was: flip-flops, socks, waist-high neoprene and sweatshirt; while eating and drinking sitting on a curb. Pure pre-competitive glamour.
Around 7 am I got into the water to "warm up". I put it in quotation marks because the water temperature was 16ºC-17ºC, so rather than warming up, what we were doing was acclimatizing. And even 1TP10We should be grateful, because the day before it had been even colder.
After a few strokes and warming up on the shore I get into my starting paddock, swimming sub 35′. Despite arriving soon to the area I prefer to be in the middle of the group, giving the opportunity to those who were going to swim in 28′-30′ to take those first places to go out after the pro and sub 25′.
The opening ceremony began punctually, first with the national anthem - sung live, including a soprano - and then the start. The men's professionals would go out first with a cannon shot, for which there was an infantry unit from the Portuguese army. It wasn't going to be the only cannon shot in the morning, because the women's pros and then the age groups would also have their own cannon shot. The locals who weren't interested in the race had to be delighted.
Finally, after months of training, the day of the race arrived.
The swimming started from the most central beach of Cascais, Praia da Ribeira. The picture was unbeatable: the sunrise on the horizon gradually illuminated the small fishing boats anchored in the bay, with the Seixas Palace to our left and thousands of fans crowding all the competitors.
The start is in "rolling start" format: instead of starting all in a block, small groups are formed every 6 seconds, avoiding the problems of excess of people in the water in the first moments and trying to stretch the participants from the beginning to avoid the formation of groups in the cycling segment.
This is very positive for the majority of the age groups, but for the more competitive age groups fighting for position it may not be the best option, as in the end their competition becomes a time trial eliminating all management according to the rhythms of the opponent, just as it happens with professionals. But for the vast majority of participants I think it is the best option.
Let's get back to the race. The swim is just one lap away including an Australian start on the far bank of the course.
Easy navigation because of the many buoys we found on our way and especially because of the number of feet to follow. The sea was very calm and because we were protected inside a bay, without any kind of current.
The only concern, apart from the navigation itself, was to seek position when overtaking or being overtaken by other participants.
Only the exit from the water slowed us down, firstly because we had to turn 180º to face the exit ramp and secondly because it was part of the port and was very slippery due to the accumulation of algae, so the help of volunteers was essential to avoid falls.
I finish the swim in 35 minutes according to my watch, nailing the time I had set to have a good pace but without suffering any wear. Something I have clear is that I prefer to lose some minutes in the swim (especially in races without drafting) in exchange for performing at full capacity from the first moment in the cycling segment.
Transition without any problems and it's time to start pedaling.
The cycling segment of this Ironman 70.3 Portugal has three parts that can be perfectly differentiated:
- A first stretch totally arriving to Lisbon, making the turn soon after reaching the 25 de Abril bridge and return by the same way
- Arrival in Estoril at km 51 and start of the climb through the Sintra woods, including a lap of the Moto GP and F1 circuit
- Descent along Guincho beach "enjoying" its "light" breeze to return to the transition zone.
Without a doubt the best part of the race was in this segment. The first 50km are an ideal scenario for those of us who love to ride with the goat. Except for small slopes, we had at our disposal the entire road parallel to the ocean and the mouth of the Tajo.
I do the first kilometres at a slower pace than I would like because there are many of us who want to find a good position to ride and the width of the road is small.
But once the road is clear there is a clear path. I turn left and start overtaking a lot of bikes. I play a bit with 2 or 3 riders who are going at a similar pace and we do the rubber. We are riding comfortably on a 40-45 km/h fork while the road is straight. I feel very comfortable at this speed and also below the estimated watts. I have two options: I turn up the pace a bit or I keep and save for the climb or the race. The smartest option is the second one.
First refreshment at the arrival in Lisbon. In the front tank I still have a drink (water with protein), so I pick up some food and an isotonic bottle for the saddle support. Shortly after that I get into a pothole -or crater- where luckily I don't have a puncture, but I do lose a piece of bar that I was saving for later. The worst thing is that shortly after that I also lose the isotonic bottle that probably almost went out in the same pothole.
I have not yet arrived in Estoril and I have already finished almost all the liquid I had in front of me... my luck is bad. We took a detour in Carcavelos on a slight climb and I see that on the way back there is another refreshment post. Saved by the skin of my teeth because I was already taking empty sips. I fill up with two bottles of water in front and put another isotonic one behind. Here we must congratulate the volunteers who perfectly managed all the refreshment posts, which were especially difficult during this segment.
Arrival at Estoril and start the climb. It's not hard but it's long, especially because it's accompanied by wind. I turn right and start to be overtaken by a lot of riders. I continue with my programmed power plans, going up a little more here than I used to on the plain. The others pass me pedalling with quite a lot of energy... I don't know if they would pay for it later on in the race, but I look around and see few power meters on the bikes.
I'm not saying it has to be compulsory, but it's interesting that very high-end bikes, even with lenticular wheels, don't use a potentiometer. It's the best guarantee of not blowing up your career by letting yourself get carried away by the euphoria on the bike and end up paying for it in the race.
After crossing Alcabideche we enter the circuit. A very special experience to be able to ride in a Moto GP circuit with the bike, despite the fact that the wind blows quite strongly in the area.
After completing the turn to the circuit we continue the ascent entering the Sintra National Park, another of the most special points of the route. It is here where we find the hardest slope of the entire route, with a percentage of 10%-12% but barely 700m. To a certain extent we are grateful to change the position a little.
We continue to climb up the area of Arenero on a narrow road where we make a 180º turn to go through the same route as before. There is not much width so it is best to take it easy and avoid any scare. It is only 2 kilometres and I use it to change position a little bit and take a break. As soon as we finish that road, a fast descent begins to the area of Guincho beach on a wide road which is quite straight a priori, so it allows us to take some risks and I do the whole descent pedalling at a good pace.
Before I know it, I'm on Guincho beach, a very famous area among surfers precisely because of its wind conditions. Well, it's blowing pretty hard and also gusty, shaking the bike from one side of the road to the other. I try to get in the middle and pick up the pace so I don't have to worry about whether they want to overtake me.
In fact, I noticed how the wind forced the bicycle to be carried slightly down to counteract the effect of the strong wind.
I do this whole area at 45-50 km/h and before I know it, I'm back in the transition area ready to start the race after a little over 2 and a half hours of pedaling. According to the official time I finished the bike segment in 2:38:55, improving the planned time quite a bit. Things are going well!
I have been running for more than three hours but the sensations are very good, so good that the first two kilometers I have to hold back and not go faster than I should. The 21 kilometers after the bike impose respect because it can be very long. The initial plan was a half marathon in 1:45 but after seeing the slopes that we had prepared in the segment I decide to give me some more time and I think in 1:50.
The bicycle circuit was a marvel for the senses and the swimming circuit was really pleasant; unfortunately, the racing circuit is just the opposite. Ugly, monotonous and with constant ups and downs. Not even the short ride to the promenade area manages to sweeten the experience.
I complete the first lap in 55 minutes and make a brief stop at the bathroom before taking another pass through the refreshment posts. But at kilometre 11.5 the problems arrive and I begin to have stomach problems. I begin to slow down on the climbs as the discomfort turns into pain. I look for a bathroom while I continue my journey at a somewhat slower pace and even walk up the slopes. I also walk to the refreshment posts to make sure I take my nourishment in stride, because despite the discomfort I don't want to run out of energy.
I reach the end of Estoril and only the way back to Cascais remains, but I still suffer from finding a bath in some refreshment post. I have only seen it at kilometre 17 and I have been suffering from the 13.5 km of the slopes of Mount Estoril.
I finally reach the happy 17th kilometre and finally see the bath houses. I lose almost 10 minutes and can at least continue the race, now without pain and again at a planned pace of 5:00-5:15 min/km. The stop and cool down makes me have small muscle aches in the left Achilles tendon and abductors, but after more than 5 hours it is totally bearable.
Last downhill to Cascais and there are only a couple of kilometres left to reach the finish line, which I reach after almost 2:10 in a half-marathon.
Final time of 5:32:46. Despite the stops and the suffering of the second part of the walking segment I still fit into the margin that I had set. I receive my Finisher medal (piece of medal, by the way) and my T-shirt and relax a little in the final zone and then go find the family and celebrate with them, without whom none of this would be possible.
Despite what I suffered in the last part of the half marathon I finished with a very good feeling. The training of these months has worked perfectly and I have not had hardly any muscle discomfort. In fact I think that if I had not had the stomach pains 1TP10I could have done the second half of the half marathon slightly faster than the first, completing the race in a time of approximately 1:47. That would have allowed me to be slightly over 5 hours, a margin I had set as a "great time" for what I was looking for.
But not everything is time, the most important sensations, especially in such long competitions. There were very good moments during the whole race. The first part of the bike segment was really solid, as well as the last 15 kilometers in which I literally cut the wind. And all this knowing how to regulate myself in the climbs without getting into the competitiveness of being ahead.
In the same way, the sensations when I got off the bike and started to run were very good, frandenomáe not to commit any madness before time. I can not be happier about the final result that I can only qualify as positive. There are always more opportunities to lower times, the important thing is to stay with good taste in your mouth.
And with that... thanks for reading!