||Ironman Lanzarote 2008
Ironman Lanzarote is best known for its Hawaii-like winds, its lava, and its brutal bike course. It has a reputation for being "A Race of Survival." I trained and I was still nervous: before I left Santa Monica I painstakingly calculated the amount of pre-race climbing I did converting from feet to meters and then comparing numbers with the elevation profile on the race website with serious concern that maybe with the wind factoring in, I somehow wouldn't make the bike cut-off. I'd been warned that it may be too windy to eat and drink on the bike so if you have to stop to do these things do it or your run will end in demise. So fear was a factor.
Forced to relax when I arrived on the island one day before my bike and bag did, it was easy to buy a bathing suit and sun block as the island of Lanzarote is a sunshine destination. I had the whole week leading up to the race so I laid around reading a book ("Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri, the same author I had read at my first Ironman in 2005) while trying to keep my eyes open with the 9-hour time change thinking, "Wow, this is what a vacation feels like! I should do this more often." Truth be told: tears came to my eyes the next day when I went back to the airport and my bike box was there.
Lanzarote is off the north-west coast of Africa and owned by Spain. There are volcanoes and lava and Europeans on vacation and cafe con leches. There were as many Americans registered in the race as there were people from the Netherlands: 24. I liked this part--it is unusual to be the American minority and have so much in common with the people from the Netherlands. Of course the Germans were there as they represent at all good races--and they are fast. Belgians were there in droves and are easy to spot on training rides as they don't like to wear helmets. And despite the dollar being so weak against Euro, I did OK! Also, Cherryl Rose of my home triathlon club was there so it was fun to get to know her and her friend Pam in that venue.
I stayed in a hotel in Puerto del Carmen and had a view of the moon reflecting off the buoys of that beautiful swim course every night. (Of course I was worried about that sharp left turn 400m in and how I would get around that without getting swum over or clobbered by the 1200 other racers.) The hotel was kind to racers giving them a break in the price for once and an upgrade--I had a junior suite. The staff was friendly and extra helpful. There was a nice breakfast included and we were willing to overlook the desalinated water they used to make their coffee in the dining room because they heated the milk.
Many of the racers had been there before and told me it is a very hard race. This was an oxymoron: it was that hard and you're here again? Hmmm. Adam, a Belgian racer, brought his mother with him and I kept thinking maybe I made an error in my judgment having not brought mine. Most of the racers I met--and I made it my business to really meet a lot of people--had done several ironmans previously and I can say that of myself as well, but this race has a definite "graduate school" feel to it: it is serious. People have been out in the field for a while and they are serious about their sport. Nobody is fat. Nobody is slow. There are not a lot of women. OK, again, as with my Americanism, I was the exception here as I am not thin, not fast and am female. There is a picture of me coming out of the swim being the only pink cap in a bunch of orange caps (the men). I think I liked this part, too!
I did find three newbies to ironman but they were the exception and they were from England if that means anything as Lanzarote is to people from England, Ireland, Wales, and maybe most of Europe like Hawaii is to people from California or like the Caribbean is to people from New York or Florida: popular. My new friend Donald from England had done Lanzarote as his first. This would be his fifth time at the same race, and there were others who had done it in the double digits. Unbelievable.
Unimaginable. That is the word that came to mind the day I viewed the bike course from a bus tour organized by the race. Gareth (my girlfriend's husband who did the race a few years ago) was right: It is like a storybook unfolding before you. First there are the exposed areas that are like California's Death Valley meets Hawaii lava. The best advice I got on how to approach this bike course is to treat it like sailing: expect wind everywhere.
Mirador del Rio, the highest climb at 2000 ft. overlooks turquoise waters and other islands in the Canaries. The views rival those from Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa or any other most dramatic thing you've ever seen.
Cherryl rented a car and I told her, "I can show you the bike course but there's no way we can go on our own." It was a grueling drive with it's harrowing turns and descents. After all, we all knew this is where Marc Heramanns (spelling, sorry!) had his accident. (Now he rides a hand cycle and has a movie called, "To Walk Again" which was shown at La Santa one of the nights. He also has in own 70.3 series race.)
That night, I was still in shock from my tour with my heart rate increasing as I tried to fall sleep as images of the cyclists I had seen struggling against the wind coupled with the beautiful but empty scenery filled my head. I went in the bathroom and got half a sleeping pill. Unusual for me but I was glad as my eyes got heavy. The next day we recruited an already-qualified-for-Kona racer friend of ours named Edward (from the Netherlands) to drive the car and we set out to view the course again.
Vast lava fields spotted with some vineyards in a national park-like setting are sectioned with low stone walls for protection from the ceaseless multi-directional wind. Caves, camels, castles, mineral lakes, and wild surf in a nature preserve lend to the dramatic force of this arid landscape featuring low-lying white buildings with green shutters on thin roads lined with bougainvillea winding through romantic towns like Haria make you want to drink beer in the afternoon and then take a nap.
Triathletes in a car on a bike course are a lot of fun with their comments about road surfaces, false flats, and wind study of blowing flags. Then there was our great debate: should Edward use his disc wheel as they were not recommended. We all had maps and there was only one fight: me backseat driving Edward but to my credit I defended him for thinking we missed a left turn before we came to land of 1000 Palms and after the hillside restaurant.
There were a lot of laughs and all the way to Yaiza, Timanfaya, Teguise, Tinajo, and through Famara (rhymes with Tamara!) to the famous Club La Santa. If you've made it to La Santa, you're there, you've made it! It is an athletic complex used for the almost express purpose of European training camps. I felt strangely at-home in this foreign place--a place I had heard of and wondered about. Most people see La Santa as a "barracks" in the middle of nowhere. It is the weeded out version of all the crap that resorts have to offer boiled down to the essentials: a massive compound with a made-for-windsurfing waterway and swimming pools all the right size with the proper lane markers. I had arrived!
La Santa is the race headquarters where the registration takes place and the pre-race dinner and some after race awards ceremonies and parties. I thought I had died and gone to heaven and I will take anyone I would ever consider marrying to this spot and see if we get along. I spent a lot of money in their shop on t-shirts saying "Club La Santa Lifestyle."
OK on with the race.
Very well organized. Very long transitions. Everything is elongated so try to keep it moving. Maybe wear socks on the bike if you can't run in your shoes since pavement might be hot. (I wore no socks on the bike and ran far in my bike shoes as I was afraid to take them off.)
Swim: 2 loops and easy to stagger. No current or chop race morning. Some small fish visible (very clear), some helicopter audible, and nice draft available. I PR'd by 5 minutes (1:20) compared to last year at Malaysia's no wetsuit swim. I could have done 2 more loops: it was great. Swim lessons and experience help.
(Note: Remember my first Ironman swim at Brazil sucked as took me 1:45. Remember also, from IM Brazil, Eddy, the Belgian racer who came back for me on his bike after he finished the race to keep me company while I was still running. Well, he was here! We had kept in touch since 2005 via email so this was fun to see him again.)
Bike: 1 loop. Despite the wind, hard climbs, duration, and other racers' complaints, I loved every minute of it especially when I hit the 5-6 hour mark knowing I had it in the bag at the top of the hardest climb. There had been some carnage along the way: it is hard to watch racers go into the medical vehicle. But there was a German girl named Diana with whom I played cat and mouse with on the bike--she stopped twice to collect herself and as I passed her I encouraged her and she did the same for me as we played some cat and mouse. I told her, it is all downhill from here. Her accented, "It would be nice," turned "w" into a "v" and echoed in my head.
I spent the last 40 miles of the bike feeling good in a way that didn't feel suspiciously "too good" in terms of pacing passing people easily. I think I was feeling a lot better than they were and I attribute my hard training rides up Deer Creek and Yerba Buena for this. There were times I could only count to get myself up Deer Creek and I was glad for the training rides that had the grand finale of Piuma when I had thought about taking a nap on the side of the road and it seemed to make sense. That is how hard I trained. All systems were ago, and an ironman-distance bike ride is always long and no matter how good you feel you are glad when it is done. It took me 8:15--not a PR at all but solid and I was happy with it for the quality of my ride.
The bike course is well attended by officials who know what is going on. It is well marked. There are some round-a-bouts which had me worried on the way out and the way in--after Malaysia last year I had developed an almost irrational fear of getting lost on a bike course. This race cured me of that.
(Note: In 2007, I was almost hit by a crashing official on his motorbike at IM Malaysia--there is a lot of traffic and confusion on this bike course--then I was misdirected by another official and got lost with another American girl. I came in with the pros having missed a loop and thereby abandoned the race so you can see why I was so happy this time.)
The road surfaces are much better than they used to be here: there were some rough ones and these were some of the windiest sections, too, but this is not something that has ever bothered me--probably because I race and train on the same wheels. If I spent a lot of money on race wheels, this would probably bother me.
The race organization (or should I say Isabelle, the key organizer) sent out an email with pictures of the road to Famara featuring the new sections of pavement. There were some fast sections due to back wind and down hills and here I was glad to be heavy as I can travel fast reaching a top speed of 45 miles/hour. I blew kisses to the officials and I would have kissed my bike seat as well when I dismounted in transition had it not been the recipient of my proper hydration: I peed on it twice. This is how much I loved this bike course.
Run: 4 loops in the main drag so lots of lights and people. My loops took 1:20, 1:40, 2:00, and 1:50. The fast people were finished with the race by now, but there was still company out there but with each loop less and less. The coveted wrist bands that marked our laps were our only hope like "Wilson" to Tom Hanks "Castaway." It was 5:00 PM but light for a long time later.
Before the race, my friend Christopher recommended a book called "Deep Survival," by Laurence Gonzales. At first I balked at the subtitle, "Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why." After all, it's just an ironman: a hopefully safe race setting and a one-day event that happens by choice. I mean, you do sign up for these things. Consequently, I made a study of this book on the plane from Los Angeles and in the days leading up to and before the race and I credit this book for assisting me in developing the proper mindset for the race.
The book examined how fighter pilots learn to override their emotions and their instincts at crucial moments, how they focus so supremely that they don't even know who their mothers are at times. I learned the difference between reason overriding emotion and how helping others and having goals is important. I made a list of 10 reasons to finish the race. I was careful to finish the book as an important metaphor for the race but kept it on my bedside table as one would a bible: it was a source of comfort.
I read stories of people who were lost at sea or in the mountains who survived by keeping a schedule of certain tasks, who celebrated small accomplishments, and who stayed focused. On the run, I took a salt tab every 30 minutes like I did ever since I got on the bike in the morning. I was so focused that I reset my watch on each loop to follow that rule: it would be too upsetting to the schedule if I had to remember it at 10:00 minutes after the top or bottom of the hour. I had to pee but I was afraid this would be too distracting.
The survival experience for those who triumphed was a transformation. In some ways it meant going against their instinct: not just giving up because you are tired. That third loop of the run was completely demoralizing, but I refused to lose my form even though I wasn't really running. I was moving in some way without putting my heals down like Ian taught me this year. I was a tinder bundle trying to ignite. Maybe if somebody blew on me I would catch. I didn't want to disappoint Ian and Cherie (my coaches) but I had blisters and I'm not good at this, I thought. Maybe I can tell the race people that this was hard enough so can I have the medal anyway. But then somebody with a crisp lovely accent, yelled, "Tamara, you are brilliant!" and I believed it. Obviously, somebody's mother. There were a lot of people along the way who simply said a word or two as I went by: "Anima," was one. I figured out this meant, "Amazing." Also, I heard, "Respect." I really liked that country.
I sang songs to myself--or rather broken phrases from songs: "Hey Delila, don't you worry, anymore..." something I'd heard at the pre-race meeting. I made a promise to myself to buy the whole CD and enjoy driving and listening to it while re-living my race from the seat of my car while eating ice cream. It wasn't until halfway through the final lap when I knew I had it that I let myself pee. I think it was better than ice cream!
No matter how much my coaches cared, after all, they had become like triathlon parents, in a way, they couldn't be there for me in the way that I needed to be there for myself. They stopped responding to my emails as the race got closer and though I was a little pissed off about this, I came to an honest realization: even if I were to come to pieces, these pieces would be greater than the whole when added together so even if there were times where I came undone a little, there would still be a piece of me and therefore I would not be completely undone, and that would be enough.
There was still a piece of me! My transformation almost complete, the finish line loomed: its lights glowing and the sound of the crowd growing. I heard real music and then I started running fast and getting happy: I was on fire. This was my best finish feeling ever. At 16:23, it wasn't my best time, but it was my best race.
The race director Kenneth Gasque is everywhere at this race. He is also at the finish line for every racer. My photo with him is one of my favorites. The moment after you cross the line here you are refunded your chip deposit and given a "receipt" of your race with your split times.
(Note: The newbies, minus poor Robert's vomiting incident on the run, had good races. Low-key veteran Donald had his fifth consecutive finish and was given special recognition for this. Donald told me the race was a sort of "purification" for him. It got me to wondering what he was doing with the rest of his year, but I was happy for him.)