Ironman Lanzarote 2012 Race Report – A Catalogue of Errors

Ironman Lanzarote 2012 - disappointing results

It’s hard to know where to begin. The problems started long before I arrived on Lanzarote, though it was race day when the biggest errors were made; and what’s surprising is how suddenly they struck, I had no idea what I was walking into. The result is a near perfect example of how not to prepare for and how not to execute a race. I just had to choose Ironman Lanzarote to demonstrate this.

Mistake 1 – Not committing sufficient time to preparation

I trained less this year, but it wasn’t the overall hours so much as their distribution that was the problem. The weekly average of ten hours was achieved without consistency, one week might be over twenty, another around five. And with that inconsistency was a lack of purpose. Together they ensured I was less than ready for a tough Ironman.

Mistake 2 – Dehydration

While I like hot weather it took me a while to adjust. By Friday I felt run down, slept in and woke with the hint of a tension headache. It only disappeared later in the day after I downed a few litres of electrolytes. I’d been slowly dehydrating since I’d landed and it’s unlikely I’d fully corrected the error by the time I raced.

Mistake 3 – Lining up too far back

I knew the swim was going to be slow (see mistake 1), but I seeded myself too far back. After the cannon fired there was a slow walk into the sea and the next hour and eight minutes was spent swimming past people. Overtaking is a positive mental boost, but that much overtaking is an indication I’d misjudged the start.

I actually enjoyed the swim and stuck to my plan. I never worked too hard, kept relaxed and was surprised how comfortable I felt through to the end. Of course the cost of that swim may have been higher than I thought; easy as it felt I was unprepared for the distance.

Mistake 4 – Nutrition

Out on the bike I kept the effort easy; my heart rate was in the low 130s, athletes were flying past me, but that is what happens early in a race. As this continued it became increasingly hard to convince myself I’d catch them later on, not least as I found I struggled to raise my heart rate on the hills. My legs seemed unwilling to do the work.

Every fifteen minutes I swigged my bottle of out-of-date banana gels followed by a gulp of water. It seemed to be working perfectly. I crossed Fire Mountain and enjoyed time trialling the rolling terrain to Tahiche; I thought the race was under control and going – relatively – well. But as I rounded La Santa and started the climbs to Haria a lack of power showed.

There were moments on climbs where I chose to delay eating until an easier gradient, a minute or two here or there. They started to add up and I suspect those extra minutes turned into missed feeds. Performance continued to lag and with a selection of women age groupers going by I was now convinced I was significantly off form; they were clearly strong, but too many were passing me.

I reached Mirador del Rio still believing that if things went to plan I’d not be too far off six hours. I took the sweeping descent easy, regrouping before the highway time trial – this was where I would make my gains. At first I did. But slowly. It was obvious my legs were lacking and I struggled to keep focused. My water had run out and I slowly roasted in the sun.

I was gone.

At 150km I reached the Nazaret aid station, stopped, drank two full bottles of energy drink and as much as I could of a bottle of rancid, warm coke. The tank was empty, I desperately needed to top it back up. I bumped along the Nazaret road, cursing it all the way and struggled back through the island, unable to make the most of this faster section of the course.

As goals vanished so did motivation. Negative thoughts filled my mind and I began to consider abandoning the race. I span back home, glad for the final, rapid descents back into Puerto del Carmen.

Mistake 5 – My Longest Transition

I stopped dead on the dismount line, swung my leg over the bike – I hadn’t the energy to coordinate a moving dismount – and hobbled into the long transition. I walked it. A couple of hundred metres to get my bag, then I could take the weight off my feet in the changing tent. I slowly changed constantly debating whether to pull out rather than wasting energy on a clearly disastrous race.

The tank was still empty and there was no food in transition. My legs were deadened my arms were burnt. I got up and walked to the exit, only then breaking into a run.

My mistake – taking over 12 minutes for a transition, I’m not going to hear the end of that.

Mistake 6 – Running

Once I started running I was surprised how naturally it came. I had to reign back my speed. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as bad as I feared. At the first aid station I stopped and ate as much as I could – I needed fuel. Then I settled into a pattern of running aid station to aid station, using them as a break and a chance to fuel up on coke.

I finished the first, longer lap on schedule and still feeling good. The strategy was working. But while I knew my run fitness was better than it had been I had two concerns: coke was all that was keeping me going and in a few kilometres I’d be on my longest run of the year.

Run training has gone well, but as I build back up I’ve yet to develop sufficient endurance. I lacked the element I most needed and sure enough it showed. Walks became longer and the running ever so slightly slower. I forced down more coke at each station to keep me moving.

By the final 5K I no longer cared. I mixed run and walk, drank as little coke as I could and focussed on getting through in one piece. Autopilot kicked in 1km from the finish and I lifted the pace, straight to the queue of finishers taking their families over the line. I took my place and walked the final ten metres.

Lanzarote had beat me again. I wasn’t as fit as I should have been, but somewhere early in the day things went very wrong. I knew I would not be racing my best, I just hadn’t expected a personal worst. 12:02 my slowest Ironman yet.


  • A tough day. Chin up. Plenty to learn from this, and the first race of a long season is the right time to be learning the lessons! I’m sure you’ll unleash a great race before the year’s out!

  • The good news is you know where and how it went wrong…. Better race performances are to come mate! Keep moving

  • phil orr

    dont be hard on your self , you did it in a very respectable time, one that i would be over the moon with. i went for my first openwater swim in camlough lake on friday and it was freezing and i panicked, couldnt relax and i fumbled around a 1000m with front crawl , breast stroke very slow , a shite swim but one i am glad to get out of the way. we will both be better next time out.remember guinness is good for you, cheers

  • Laura

    Hmmm…looking forward to hearing more about your analysis of this. Remember to play your ACE card, and in 15 mins you’ll feel better 😉

  • RobQuantrell

    Tough day out Russ, but at least you have identified the key factors involved. No doubt in my mind you’ll pick it up for a solid second half of the season. 12 minutes IS a long time though 😉

  • Thanks for the comments. My mood has improved a lot since the race and while I’m not happy with the result, I’m glad I went through it all and feel there’s still the potential for a better second half of the year. I think I might suffer through another race or two on the way there, but I’ve more motivation to put myself in better condition.

    The plus – as I hoped I’m recovering quickly. I think I’ll be able to train quite soon and should be able to make some fitness gains in time for Roth and Ironman UK, though it does mean training through the UK 70.3.

    And the other big plus – one of my athletes came in the top 50, the fastest British age grouper of the day with a 10:00:14, so while I may not get it right, my plans do work!

    I am never going to hear the end of that transition…


  • Laura,

    Of course I’m going to put 15 minutes aside to brainstorm the race!

  • Laura

    I spelt my own name wrong. Oh dear. You should have just taken 15 mins for transition and called it brainstorming time.

  • I hope our organization of the Race was better than you performance :o) Never the less I just want to inform/warn you that registration for IRONMAN Lanzarote 2013 starts tomorrow… and as a warm up may I suggest our first IRONMAN 70.3 on 10th of Nov. 2012? I deeply respect that you share your learning’s from this tough Race.

  • Thanks for the honest race report Russell, I know you’re not happy with the race outcome but it’s always heartening for someone like me to read that someone like you can make the same mistakes as probably lots of people and with years of experience too. Very interesting about the nutrition mistake, it’s something I’m struggling with at the moment, and I don’t even like carrot cake so it couldn’t have been lack of that for me recently.

  • Christian,

    The organisation was superb as it always is. When I wasn’t suffering in the heat and the wind I enjoyed the day. If I had one request though, it’s resurface the roads from Nazaret and at the top of Mirador del Rio, I was worried my bike would fall apart!

    I will be back to race Ironman Lanzarote, maybe not in 2013, but I have unfinished business and of course only two more times and I have completed five.

    Thanks for the comments and information


  • Annette,

    It can, and unfortunately does, happen to us all at some point. This was by far the worst meltdown I’ve experienced. I took a look at the heart rate data from the bike and it’s clear I started to drop the effort after a couple of hours of already lower than anticipated riding. I wonder how much the days leading in – the dehydration, lack of sleep and general lack of focus – contributed to this as it seems far earlier than I would expect given I was eating at the time. But perhaps I simply wasn’t eating enough, I was only carrying about 1600 calories in total, that’s 250 calories per hour, it might be enough, but perhaps not at current fitness levels.

    I’ve got a month to put things right before I race again in Roth!



  • Inoza


    First of all, thank you for your precious work with this blog. Besides, my english is not very good and I hope you will be kind with my faults.
    I’m a bit disapointed not seeing you at Lanzarote but I didn’t know how to do.
    I’m not very far away from you during the race and it’s pretty funny to see that I was confronted with the same problems than you.
    The natation was pretty hard (1:07) and I regret to start at the beginning. It was a big fight and too hard for me. The Bike leg was a surprise. It was harder than I thought. I wanted to spend 270 at 310 TSS and I think I spent much more. I don’t know yet because Iberia has lost our luggages. I think I spent 340 at 350 TSS so the running was pretty hard. Maybe you passed me during the bike as many people did.
    Meanwhile, I started the run easily and I was following my goal during the first loop (>12 km/h). Suddenly a huge pain in my intestines and I suffered till the end of the race.
    I still thinking that performing during an Ironman is a combined success strategy on the bike (TSS) and on the running hydration. I missed both and I have such a lot of work to do. For the bike, it is not complicated, I have just to be more concentrate for buildind FTP and respect the valors during the bike leg. For the running hydration, I’m still looking and don’t have any solution for the moment. Many people had the same problem thant you and I. Running hydration as far as I’m concerned is the difference between a marathon in 3:45 and a marathon sub 3:30. That’s my goal but it was not for this time. Maybe next time but for that, I have to find what to drink during the run part. Finding that, and it’s bingo !
    Anyway, I love you work and I use some of your advice. Thank you for your work.
    Don’t be too rude with yourself. After the race, I heard a lot of french conversations about deception for the bike leg and pain during the run part. So you are not alone and I suffered as you did. But, this time I desire a revenge and I’m thinking about my next race.

    Anyway, well done and I hope you will reach your goal next time.

  • Hi Inoza,

    Thanks for the comments, glad you like the blog and great to know I have readers in lots of countries too. It was a tough day and conditions weren’t easy, if you made a mistake with hydration then you paid the price later on as we both learnt. It shows how critical nutrition and hydration can be to a successful race, both on the day itself and in the week before. I feel I failed to hydrate enough in the days prior to the race and that’s something I’ll be far more aware of in the future.

    I would agree, racing is about both the bike strategy – correct pacing – and adequate nutrition/hydration to support a good marathon. Lanzarote makes pacing and hydration challenging, the hills, the wind, the heat, they all work against the athlete. Riding too hard will raise your TSS, but so will taking too long and throughout you must remember to adequately eat and drink.

    Well done on finishing the day, I’m sure you will come back stronger and produce a better time.


  • jason courtney

    hi russ,im going to take on lanzo next year thanks for the great race report,i just completed IM uk in july and was wondering could you or anyone reading this post give their thoughts on comparisons of the two courses ect and have you any advice on training for the bike for lanzo any help would be great thanks and well done……jason

  • Hi Jason,

    Two quite different courses.

    Swim: Lanza is a sea swim so affected by currents, the start is crazy with a mass run in from the beach (see my video of it from 2011 – UK is probably the easier swim, Lanza is rough to start, but you can find your own space once your past the first turn.

    Bike: UK has one notable climb and a lot of winding rough roads to navigate, Lanzarote has a number of steadier climbs, but a lot of head wind to deal with. Of the two Lanzarote is the tougher bike in my opinion, the consistent winds, heat and the scattering of hills make it slow with a lot of time spent riding. It’s hard to get to the 2/3rds point at Mirador del Rio fresh enough to push the final 1/3rd home where you have the advantage of a tail wind.

    Run: Lanza is a simple set of out-and-backs on a near flat course, it is however often in the heat and exposed to the sun and the aid stations aren’t the greatest for ice. UK is likely to be in nicer running conditions, but of the two I prefer the Lanza course in terms of overall support (even if the ice is lacking)

    Both good races in their own rights, but were I choosing I’d always opt for Lanza, despite not yet having a good race there myself.

    In terms of training, if you can get yourself out to the island before the race for a training week, that’s perfect; if not, don’t be afraid of wind or hills in all your sessions. Make longer stead hills a regular part of your training and get used to climbing them aero if possible. The stronger a biker you are the better you’ll cope in Lanza.


  • jason courtney

    thanks for the advice russ, i live in south west ireland so training in strong winds and hills is common place for me,all my open water swimming is done in the atlantic so hopefully it will stand to me,i will find the heat tuff but thats the nature of the beast ill get over it…..i did IMUK in 13.42 it was my first IM so i was very happy with that…thanks again for the help………jason

  • Yep, heat will be your biggest issue. From what my athletes out that way tell me about their training, you’ll be all set for the wind and the drags. Just won’t have any rain there for you. Swim will be much easier than the Atlantic you’re used to – warmer and well sheltered.


  • jason courtney

    russ is their any chance you could e-mail me coaching packages you