Simon Nicholls joined my group of athletes towards the end of 2013 with a view of completing his first Ironman race in Kalmar, Sweden in the summer of 2014. His strength was clearly going to be the bike so we were going to use this to deliver him to a strong marathon off the back of both the swim and the run. Below is Simon’s race report of his Ironman experience in Kalmar. As he eludes to, training threw up some challenges with injuries hampering both running and swimming at times. Together though we saw him through those times and Simon delivered a fantastically even paced race on the day finishing in just over 12 hours.
Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy his report just as he enjoyed his day on the streets around Kalmar just over a week ago:
Arrived in Kalmar Thursday without any hiccups. I was able to register late on the Thursday in the end which was a great relief. The organisers had originally planned to close registration earlier on Thursday. When I booked all the travel, some 8 months previously, I was expecting (as is the norm) that registration would be open on the Friday.
I was really glad to get to Kalmar and focus on the race. Over the preceding week I just wanted to get out of the work environment and get my head mentally in the right state and immerse myself in the event environment.
Training in the run up had had its issues. An Achilles problem in Apr/May ruled out running for nearly 2 months. But the main worry coming into this was a shoulder injury. I had stupidly fallen off my bike in mid-June (an accident I should have avoided). This resulted in inflamed muscles in the shoulder which made the swim motion quite sore – not great when I was faced with swimming the furthest swim I had every done. I didn’t swim for the rest of June and all of July. I only got back to it in August. The shoulder still wasn’t fixed so the only sessions I could do were short and low intensity.
The whole Ironman transition is completely different to a regular triathlon transition set up so Thursday night I checked and packed my transition bags. I then re-checked and re-packed them about 3 times – mentally rehearsing in my head everything that I would need from each bag.
THE DAY BEFORE
Friday morning was one last check of the transition bags and then off to transition to rack my bike, suss out where to place the bags and mentally walk through where I would be coming in from the swim, exiting for the bike and exiting for the run. A short walk around the expo, checked out the swim course and the rest of the day was then spent mainly sitting on my arse or lying down in the hotel staying off my feet. Dinner was, predictably, lots of pasta and chicken and I was in my bed for about 9:30pm.
SATURDAY – RACE DAY
Yikes!!! This is really it – no backing out now.
Well what a crap nights sleep. I think I probably managed about 3 or 4 hours before the alarm went off at 04:15. I couldn’t stop fretting about what was ahead of me.
Breakfast was a small bowl of porridge and a white roll with jam – keeping it light with as little fibre as possible as recommended by Karl, my coach.
Off to transition at 05:30 to complete final preps of loading bottles and nutrition on the bike, checking tyre pressure and checking transition bags – again. As I walked away from the transition area I turned round and went back to check I had everything in the right bags one last time. Paranoia, OCD call it what you will. Wetsuit on and off to the start line we go. Was feeling less anxious now (although I still needed to pee 3 times in about 30mins) as I was now going through a pre-race routine, that although is different to a normal triathlon, I have rehearsed a number of times before.
The swim start was to be a rolling start based on “honest” predicted swim times. I thought I’d be in the 1hr 30min range given the ongoing shoulder issues. They had slots for 1:35 and 1:25 so aired on the side of caution and opted for 1:35. My mind was really made up for me when the announcer said it was better to start further back and swim over people than start ahead of some faster swimmers and be “swum over”. Good advice! My approach to the swim was simply to take it slow and steady and just get through it. I’d never done a swim of this distance so it was unknown territory. Once out of the water I knew I could do the bike distance and the run was always going to be tough but something to endure and just get through. So in the water I went which was surprisingly warm (21.9 degrees apparently). Didn’t have the usual cold water shock that we get at home so was able to get in my rhythm quickly. The shoulder pain came on almost instantly but as with recent swim sessions it was perfectly bearable. My tactic was to just focus on the next buoy I needed to get to which is what I did for the whole way way. There were a few jellyfish about and where they were particularly frequent I found it best to get on the heels of some fat bloke and let them deal with it while I swum in their wake – jellyfish free. I did accidentally stick my fingers in the top of one jellyfish but other than that was able to keep free of them and I got used to seeing the swimming/floating (what is it they do anyway) around. Was able to draft a few people for a while but then found I wanted to push on at a faster pace. By the end of the swim I was fine and spent the last 100m increasing my kicking to get the blood flowing through my legs. Yes the shoulder was sore but endurance wise I had held up great. I wasn’t tired in the slightest. Good job really as the swim is just the ‘warm up’ for what is about to come.
So out of the water and into T1 in 1:26 – pleased with that. This was positively civilised compared to non IM events where you have to hop around on one leg getting a wetsuit off amongst a world of bikes and people barging past you. Here there is a marquee and benches. I had to spend sometime drying off in order I could apply sun block – it was forecast to be sunny and warm. I also put on compression socks which was a bit tricky considering my legs we’re a bit damp still (tip for next time get some calf guards I can wear under my wetsuit rather than stirrup socks). Sun block applied and plenty of chamois cream and off on the bike.
Spotted Tracey on the way out of town which was great. Over the Oland bridge with a tail wind and into my rhythm. Again, strategy was to start steady keeping HR between 130 and 140bpm. Almost straight away I had some gastrointestinal problems. I’d had this the previous day so could only assume it was due to a different type of porridge or coffee or something. Coming up off the aero-bars and sitting more upright, but in a less aero position, definitely helped. This lasted about 40/50km and in the end several good long satisfying farts seemed to fix things. So with the discomfort behind me I focused on getting past a few folk. The course is fast and flat in Oland and I was pleasantly surprised to see my average speed well over 30kmh – that would put me on course for a 6 hour bike split. The roads were great – smooth and straight. Great time trialling roads. Hopes were dashed on the 6hr target once we reached the turning point at the bottom of the island and the midday winds started to pick up. Faced some pretty brutal headwinds heading back west across the island. I just kept telling myself I had dealt with headwinds so many times during the many training rides in Scotland so this was no different – just get your head down, get in a rhythm and deal with it. About 3hrs in I took some pro-plus to stay alert (had tried this in training on the longer rides and found it really helped maintain concentration) and paracetamol to deal with the predictable stiff neck. The first 120km felt actually ok and like an easy training ride (headwinds aside). Tapering for the last 2 weeks had done wonders to replenish my energy levels as the legs felt strong. A slog back across the 6km Oland bridge into the wind passing a few more people and the last 60km on the mainland. I thought I was home and dry at this point but it was a hard 60km. Not as many crowds and some downpours impacted my average speed a bit more. The nutrition plan had gone exactly to plan. Took on an extra water bottle from one station and had 2 or 3 bits of banana that were been handed out but other than stuck to exactly what I had been doing in training. The last 20km or so I was praying I wouldn’t get any sort of mechanical issue. Paranoia set in any time a stone was flicked up by the tyre (what was that sound?) or the bike creaked in an unusual way. I was also like a hawk making sure I avoided anything on the road that had even the slimmest chance of inflicting a puncture. I was looking forward to getting off the bike and not having the fear of any mechanical issue. Once on the run it was down to me, my head and my 2 feet. A 6:13 bike split. This was still well beyond my hopes. I had it in my head I would be targeting a 7hour bike so to make up 45mins was a boost.
Quick-ish T2 and out on the run. Legs felt ok and I had it drilled into to me by Karl just to tick off the aid stations one at a time. They were about 2/3km apart so just get to the first one Simon. Rounded the corner at the start of the run where I had arranged to meet Tracey and Ethan. There was no sign of them and my heart sank a bit. It turned out they had stayed at the same place I had seen them on the bike so they could see me come in on the bike and then I’d have to run past them on the way back out of town. Got to the first aid station and had some salted crisps and flat coke. Man, I’d never tasted anything so tasty in my life. My body was craving salt and sugar. Between the first and second aid station I saw Tracey which lifted my spirits no end. A quick kiss, reassured her I was ok and on my way. The run course is a 3 lap route through the town and then up past the start of the Oland bridge through what looked like Kalmar suburbs and then back to town – each loop 14km. The nutrition plan was to stick to the provided gels (which I’d tried in training) and supplement with what else I needed or felt like. Well that first loop I devoured crisps, water and flat coke like there was no tomorrow – had the odd bit of banana for some extra energy. I ran with a guy from the Anglia Tri club for a few kms. He was competing with his wife doing their first ironman too. In total there were 32 members from that club taking part. I left Anglia guy behind at one of the aid stations, pressed on and focused on maintaining a good tempo – just keep moving forward Simon, one aid station at a time. Going into the 2nd lap and my legs were starting to stiffen up. Hip-flexors were painful, quads were sore and knees were sore. The support through the town was unbelievable. Thousands of people lining the cobbled streets cheering everyone one. That gave me some relief and also caught sight of Tracey and Ethan again. Food cravings changed on the second loop; I switched to chunks of sweetened bread and even tried one of the pickled gherkins on offer. That didn’t go down so well so no more pickles thank-you. Took 2 pro-plus and 2 paracetamol to keep focused and a vain attempt to null the pain. By now I was starting to pass lots of people. Some were a lap ahead so I was unlapping myself, others on the same lap and a few people a lap behind me. This gave me a great boost and something else to focus on. I was still just focussing on getting to each aid station but it was becoming increasingly difficult. Lots of people were walking by this stage. Seeing the odd person stopped at the side of the course and one guy who had appeared to have collapsed and was being attended to by a volunteer made me think I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. I was going to finish, I hadn’t done months and months of training to let the wheels fall off the wagon now – I was going to finish. I was working out the time in my head. 12 hours was out of reach but could I beat 12hours 30mins? Just keep moving forward Simon, keep moving. By the end of the 2nd lap my legs were killing me. The run through the town again helped and another couple of glimpses of T & E was fantastic – it would be really difficult to do this without any support.
Pulled up beside a guy from Mersey-Tri. Chatted for a few 100metres then pressed on. Ok lap 3 here I come. This was now unfamiliar territory as longest training run had been 30km. 1 lap to go – just 1 lap of 14km. Told myself that 14km was just a bit more than a 10km regular training run. By now the 2km gap between each aid station was too far so I focused on chasing down the next person in front of me, and then the next and then the next. Nutritional cravings were now enhanced with frequent slices of lemon which I would suck on. I don’t know why maybe it was the sharpness that helped take my mind of the pain that shot up through my legs with every stride. I was still passing people and this helped me maintain good leg tempo. Went through the leafy suburbs one last time and came out on the main road in Kalmar. Just 2km to go. Push on. Into the town and round the old city walls high-5-ing the kids and a strong finish. Done. I crossed the line as the clock was saying 12:26 but because it took me some 10mins to get into the water due to the rolling swim start my actual recorded time was 12:12:52.
I got ushered to the recovery area pretty quick. I was looking for Tracey & Ethan but the volunteers clearly wanted to get people away from the finish line. A quick soak of my calfs in an ice bath (which felt really, really, really good), showered, changed and joked with a cheery guy from Wales about how difficult it was going to be to get the compression gear on and that it was going to stay on for several days. Collected some sweet clear soup, a 0% beer (how disappointing) and a piece of melon and left the athlete area to find my own support crew.
Tracey and Ethan hadn’t eaten so off to the nearest place with a table available. All I wanted was a plate of salty french fries and a beer with some alcohol content this time!
The event had been amazing, the experience had been amazing and the support and volunteers had been amazing. In a weird sort of sadistic way I decided I enjoy the long distance events better. I’ll not be doing an Ironman every year (the commitment is just too much) but I have a funny feeling Kalmar will not be my last.