Where Did It Go Wrong? A Closer Look at Ironman Lanzarote

Tempting as it is to pretend that, despite sore legs and peeling sunburn, Ironman Lanzarote never happened I need to dig deeper. I knew the lack of consistent, specific training would cost me on race day, but the worst case scenario that played out leaves me genuinely concerned about the season ahead. Am I that far off the mark in assessing my own fitness or did poor preparation and a collection of small mistakes amount to my slowest Ironman? I am unlikely to ever know the answer, but picking through my race data may bring me a step closer to the truth.

Ironman Lanzarote 2012 - Bike Profile and Heart Rate

The race was controlled – I kept my pace in check and my heart rate down and I managed my nutrition, swigging gel every quarter hour. Yet the bike data shows the pattern of a poorly executed ride, as if my initial efforts – with heart rates in the low to mid 130s – were too much, or I’d failed to consume sufficient calories. The former seems unlikely the effort felt comfortable, too easy and the pedestrian heart rate backs this up, but the latter? I genuinely felt I was managing my nutrition well, taking in a minimum of 200 calories per hour; low, but enough to sustain me further into the race than it did.

I have to concede that nutritional errors were the most likely culprit; that the debt I was building was greater than I thought and hit earlier than expected. This was simple stuff. It reflects on my mindset during the race – my plan was built around using up an old box of gels. Given my intention was to race steadily there was the potential to take in and absorb more nutrition. Being undernourished was a problem that should never have occurred. Perhaps a couple of bars would have made the difference between struggling home and maintaining a steady pace.

Ironman Lanzarote 2012 - Run Speed, Cadence and Heart Rate

By the time I started the run I was already dealing with the consequences of my nutritional short fall. If the slow walk through transition was any guide I was looking at a long day ahead of me, but running proved surprisingly easy and instead I had to reign back my speed. My run fitness was much improved, but I also knew that my endurance was underdeveloped; I doggedly stuck to a run/walk strategy with each aid station as a break, conservation remained key. After two hours fatigue took control, heart rate and pace gradually declined until, finally, one walk break extended beyond the aid station. All that remained was a determined march towards the finish line, jogging from coke to coke.

The assessment of my run is easier. My run training is incomplete and while I’ve made huge progress since last year there is a way to go before I effectively run an Ironman marathon again. There are positives – the way I held my form together and the quality of the first lap in light of all that had gone before.

It would be an oversight not to reflect on the quality of recent training. The chart below shows the variation in weekly training hours during a selection of builds, this race stands out for it’s distinctly lower profile.

Variation of Weekly Training Hours During 16 Week Ironman Race Builds

I had scaled back my racing goals in light of the significantly lower training volume of recent months. It would be unrealistic of me to expect or attempt to match the volumes I sustained in 2009 and 2010, but last year demonstrated I can still do enough to perform well. So the fundamental problem is I have neither trained sufficiently nor consistently enough to perform near to the potential that averaging ten hours per week might allow. The single biggest improvement I can make is to train regularly!

Mistakes were made on race day, but it really comes down to the quality of preparation. Both during the months before and my organisation around race week. I didn’t place the focus on the race that was needed and suffered the consequences. Rather than a controlled day, my race spiralled out of control resulting in a performance far short of my potential. Next time, in Roth, I need to be on top of my game; I’ve got a month to sort things out.


  • Inoza

    Hi Russell,

    Do you know how many TSS you spent during the bike leg ?

  • Inoza

    How many flasks did you drink during the bike leg ? What did you drink precisely ?
    For my part, my problem was too much TSS during the bike leg and an intestinal pain during the running part. But effectively, the drop of you FC on bike would be a sign of dehydration and the beginning of difficulties for your run.
    I search for a solution hydration during the running part and I haven’t find yet. I don’t think is a question of calory but only of hydration and osmolarity. What is your point of view ?
    Besides, how do you do to be fit for Roth ? Quite impressive for me !

  • Hi,

    Unfortunately my Powertap died the day before the race – it ran out of batteries and I couldn’t find any new ones. So I don’t have power or TSS for my ride. I could attempt to estimate the TSS from my heart rate data, but I believe this is off due to dehydration/nutrition issues and would not give an accurate figure. It’s very hard to estimate in the circumstances, it was a hard race and certainly felt like a TSS over 300.

    During the bike I had one bottle filled with 20 gels, and a second bottle of water. Every 15 minutes I would drink some gel and some water, but clearly not enough! I also failed to drink every 15 minutes once we were on hills and those breaks would have added up. By Mirador del Rio I had consumed roughly 12 gels and 2 bottles of water. at Nazaret I stopped and consumed 2 bottles of energy drink, some coke and half a bottle of water. Before the finish of the bike I consumed another half bottle of energy drink and more water. After Nazaret though I was riding slowly so better able to absorb this food. I made much more effort to rehydrate from Nazaret onwards, my intention was to get as much fluid and energy into me as I could.

    On the run I walked each aid station and would drink both coke and water, plus sometimes energy drink, I took a lot more fluids on here and made sure I was as hydrated as I could comfortably be.

    I think Ironmans are very much about managing what you eat and drink. The biggest issue is the ability to absorb what you consume while racing. The faster you go the harder it is to digest the foods you consume. Osmolarity plays a part in this – if the concentration is too high it can cause stomach upset, the stomach will slowly digest the food. If it is too dilute then you may not get sufficient energy from what you consume. We need to eat throughout the day to spare muscle glycogen and ensure we keep going till the end of the race. We need to choose what we eat to ensure we can absorb as much nutrition as possible, but not cause ourselves stomach problems or compromise our race pace.

    It is tough to balance these factors. I definitely got it wrong in Lanzarote. I also believe I did not eat enough in the morning before the race, nor drink enough in the days before. I have got it right before and it involves a mix of foods and carefully balancing that need to eat with how my stomach felt.

    I am recovering well now. Having walked so much of the marathon my legs are not badly damaged. I’ve started training again and should be in better condition for Roth in July. In the meantime I will be racing Ironman 70.3 UK in 3 weeks time and I have a training camp in the Pyrenees to look forward to! I know that it will take a while to reach back to my full fitness, so my aim is to be ready for Ironman Wales in September.


  • Inoza

    Hi Russel,

    This podcast should be very interesting for our difficulties. May you will give me your point of view ?

  • Thanks for the recommendation – I’m downloading it now and will let you know what I think once I have listened.

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen them, but here are a few posts I’ve written on fuelling Ironmans:

    Lots of ideas, but I have yet to perfect the art. Always interested in new approaches and ideas, so thanks for the links.

    Of course dehydration was likely another factor, I will soon be reviewing Tim Noakes’s new book Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports so hopefully will have some more insight there.

    Thanks again,