Today’s schedule is logistically the toughest day on our camp because there are so many races. It is also a pretty tough day for the athletes (as we discovered this year with both Jo and Steven taking part in both races), when we ask them to deep beyond their fatigue, and perform head to head in some intense handicapped racing. The handicapping system ensures that everyone is motivated, not just those who are accustomed to winning, and it is stunning how deep people CAN dig under such circumstances. The schedule is slightly more relaxed for the athletes with only short rides routes allowing a little more time to relax between the main events of the day and some recovery for the saddle contact areas ahead of the Ironman route on Friday and the chance to gain some wild cards to lesson the final day load.
We start with our swim handicap race. As everyone sets off at intervals carefully calculated from their aquathlon swim splits, watching the early starters swim away it’s hard to believe that they could really be caught. All week we’ve had calm weather for all our swims which has meant fewer navigation errors and a more accurate handicap. This resulted in all the athletes finishing in such rapid succession of athletes that it was impossible for Ali to record all the finish times -it was hard enough just spotting the finish order! Steven was last off on handicap, and up until the final 300m leg of the course, was was still in second last place. With a huge effort he managed to pass all but Stephen, who had been the first off, and Mel, who did just enough to stay one place ahead of him the entire race. Jo’s start was very shortly before John and Greg – who were both set off together – they very quickly came past, and she took the opportunity to ride their two sets of feet. Not the most efficient positioning in terms of a draft apparently, but with one swimmer on each side double the chance of retaining contact with the faster-paced duo. This made for one of the hardest, but most fun, swim races that she’s been involved in…and it was only in the shallows that the three of them separated on account of their relative heights and strength to run through the surf. As we all looked around, we could see other swimmers involved in the same head-to-head sprints for the line, then doubled over with the exertions that such close racing provides. Stephen’s great performance as the “bait that got away” won the handicap competition, for which he wins a pair of BlueSeventy swim trunks.
The focus of todays ride was just to get up Femes. We had a few slight variations on the route options, with some just doing the minimum ride (with a wildcard), some doing extra before, some extra after and some extra before and after….but we still managed to coordinate so that all the different groups had merged on the long drag from Playa Blanca. The weather was not kind with a headwind on that long drag, and with many weary legs amongst us the dark clouds were casting a bit of a shadow of doom in some people’s minds! As it was, everyone did make it up the steep Femes climb of course, though Andrew admitted that he stopped part- way: how he got back on we cannot fathom. Coffees and cake were enjoyed at the top before two groups set off back, Jo and Emma took Lance, Greg and Frank up and over Fire Mountain, whilst Steven returned with the others in order that he could could spend some time with a couple of the guys that Jo filmed swimming yesterday and give them some technique pointers. The Ladies ride seemed to turn into a bit of a “ding-dong” – with each taking turns to push the pace…and then shortly regret it as the hurt quickly accumulated and a counter push was launched. Even Emma was seen to be out of the saddle on a few of the undulations! The “red zone” had definitely been redefined at a lower intensity as a result of the previous 4 days…..but we took some small solace in the knowledge that everyone else was in the same boat, and also had a 10 k foot race to do in a short few hours!
The final points-scoring race is our 10k handicapped run race along the Avena Las Playas – a route that previous participants of the Ironman here know well! As a little bit of an extra fun, we ask everyone to guess the time they will do and then to remove their watched for the race. Most people under-estimate how quick they will go, and in fact as we jogged there I think many people wondered how they would even manage a 10k run at all. But once the gun goes, and those handicapped earlier starts can be seen as targets to chase down, one by one, everyone finds that extra something from somewhere. Rob was off first doing his run-walk and wearing bright luminous orange top making him an easy target to spot. About 17 minutes later our last runner Matthew was off with all others at intervals in between ( handicaps calculated form the aquathlon run split). There was a tough headwind on the way out, and so it felt like hard work making any progress to close the gaps, but it did all come together towards the end. In these sort of races it’s helpful to realise that if the handicap was perfect you wouldn’t catch anyone till the final 100m or so as an incentive to keep pushing to the line. With a well calculated handicapping you should expect some sprint finishes, which we did see between Steven (2nd last starter) and Rob ( first off). Everyone did finish within 10 minutes – but other than a very tired final finisher, an outlier, everyone finished within 4 minutes of each other. The spread here really illustrates that a good endurance base helps a lot with a week like this, as the handicap is favoured towards those who’s paces drop off the least after 3- 4 solid long days of training. At this early time of year after a harsh winter in the UK, most people have not yet been putting in those long hours required to attain that base level yet. Those who have either raced late in the 2012 season, managed some training through winter in warmer climates or through sheer doggedness, or are more accustomed to the occasional big training weeks are holding up just a bit better……and even getting stronger through the camp in some cases.
Jo was first across the line catching Gregory within the last 2km leg. He hung in to finish 2nd ( first “camper”) which secured him the prize of a pair of Vibram Fivefingers from Primal Lifestyle. This great result also cemented his lead in the overall camp competition, requiring him only to complete the Ironman bike route tomorrow to seal the win. Matthew flew round the course in 39 minutes giving him the 2nd fastest time ever, only 8seconds slower than Roger Canham’s record which was set last year in far lighter winds. He also predicted his time to within 30 seconds which though was not actually the closest guess (this was Steven with an estimate only 17seconds off, the closest we’ve had yet on any camp) it won him the prize of a two hour run session with Helen at 10-Point Tri. As usual most under estimated how quick they’d run however John, who came in last, was extremely optimistic with his guess and for this (sadly mis-placed) optimism he’s won a run session with Helen at 10-Point Tri.
So now it’s “only” the Ironman – or the extended Ironman in some cases – route to go tomorrow.