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Whisk's Epic IM Lanza 2008 race report
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 12:23 pm    Post subject: Whisk's Epic IM Lanza 2008 race report Reply with quote

Ironman Lanzarote 2008 – The world’s toughest Ironman (apparently)

There’s no such thing as an “easy” Ironman – however you look at it, you’ve got to swim 3.8km, bike 180km and run 42.2km before midnight. My first two IM races were on faster courses (Austria and Switzerland), so for 2008 I decided I wanted to do something a little bit more “challenging” and was drawn to Lanzarote. IM Lanzarote styles itself as “the world’s toughest Ironman” and looking at the hilly, windswept bike course and the hot run, they’ve probably got a good point.

Despite what Lance tells us, Lanzarote is very much about the bike, so that was the focus of my training over the winter. If you’re not strong on the bike then you’ll be in no shape to run a marathon at the end. So it was that I spent many hours riding around Surrey on my fixed wheel, looking for as many hills as I could find. When I eventually switched to a bike with gears I found that I was flying up the hills.

Lanzarote is the earliest of the European IM races, coming at the end of May, so by entering it you are committing yourself to doing some of your longest sessions when the conditions outside are far from ideal. This year, Spring came particularly late so I was still training in my winter kit right the way up to the end of April. This was hardly going to prepare me for the heat of Lanzarote!

The build-up

We arrived in Lanzarote nearly a week before the race so that I could acclimatise and chill out. We were staying in Club La Santa, so there was no shortage of athletes around. A trip round the bike course in the car allayed some of my fears about the profile. Sure it was hilly, but most of the climbs were just long drags rather than being particularly steep. A few short rides during the week seemed to confirm this, as well as indicating that the thing that would really make the bike course hard was the wind. Having to pedal to go down hill is a new experience and some of the cross winds made life “interesting”.

CLS ran buses over to Puerto del Carmen during the week before the race so that we could practice on the swim course. I booked myself on the Tuesday morning session so that I could try my wetsuit out for the first time since IM Switzerland last year. From the beach the water looked reasonably flat, but that certainly wasn’t the case once I got out there. The outward leg of the swim was definitely “interesting” with big waves crashing in and swamping me every other stroke. Every few strokes I’d swallow a mouthful of salty water. The return leg wasn’t so bad with the wind behind and I was able to enjoy the experience of swimming over shoals of fish, but I was definitely worried about what the swim would be like on race day. I was assured that the conditions were worse than normal and that they’d be better for the race, which would be 2 hours earlier. I hadn’t planned on going to any more of the practice swims, but decided to go back the next day to either see what more “normal” conditions were like or get some more practice of swimming in rough water. As it happened, the sea was like a mill pond the next day and my concerns about the swim were significantly reduced.

Bike racking was on the Friday afternoon and once again CLS laid on buses to get us there. They also said that they would transport our bikes over in trucks. However, I was shocked to find out what they considered to be appropriate vehicles to transport our pride and joys across the island – I was confronted by a large dumper truck that had clearly last been used to transport stone from a quarry. We were assured that they would wrap our bikes in blankets to protect them, but I rushed back to our room to get some extra padding. Fortunately, the bikes all seemed to arrive at Puerto del Carmen in one piece.

Transition was the longest I have ever seen. There isn’t much space on the sea front at Puerto del Carmen, so they set up the various tents and bike racks along the road. From the change tent at one end, past the bike racking to the exit at the other end was literally hundreds of metres. This wasn’t going to be a race for fast transitions. I racked my bike, hung my transition bags and caught the first available bus back to CLS.

We had an early dinner, packed our stuff for race day and were in bed by 8:30 in preparation for a very early start the next day. Sleep was hard to come by though, with far too many thoughts buzzing around my head and the noise coming from the restaurant downstairs, where people were eating at a normal hour.

Race Day!

The alarm went off at 3:15am! Terri had volunteered to help in transition on race day and the volunteers’ bus left CLS at 4am. The athletes’ buses were due to leave at 4:30. I had the hearty breakfast of a condemned man, said my goodbyes to Terri and started my routine of multiple trips to the bathroom until it was time to go.

The bus was full of nervous people, anxiously clutching their water bottles. We all had a big day ahead of us. We arrived in transition just after 5am to find the place buzzing. After pumping my tyres, filling my bottles and loading my food on the bike it was just a case of counting down the minutes and joining the queues for the toilets. I managed to find Terri in transition and she wished me luck before I donned my wetsuit and headed for the beach.

It was still very dark when we headed down towards the start. I managed to find some familiar faces to exchange some nervous words, went for a little splash around in the sea and then found myself a place in the start area in the sub-65minute section. It was then just a case of waiting for the command to go “over the top”.

The swim

At the start signal there was a big surge down the beach. We were funnelled down quite a narrow area before we were able to spread out and head for the water. Predictably, there was a great deal of pushing and shoving before we even hit the water – you can run a lot faster on the sand than you can in the water, which in turn is faster than most people can swim, so things piled up pretty quickly.

When I finally got into water deep enough to swim in I found myself in a bubbling, seething mass of thrashing hands and feet. Everyone seemed to have a different idea about which direction they should be travelling in and the whole thing was very physical. It took a few hundred metres before I felt that I had any space at all. Fortunately, the water was pretty calm and I was eventually able to get into my swim. The turn towards the beach came surprisingly quickly and after a short leg inland we turned back towards the start. Before too long I was running up onto the beach to complete my first lap and it all got very noisy! A glance at my watch told me that I’d taken just over 27 minutes to finish my first lap.

Back in the water, everything felt a lot less congested and I was able to settle into a good, comfortable rhythm without feeling like I was in the middle of a fight. I was even able to see a few fish swimming down below. My swim was going well and everything seemed to be going to plan. I even caught up with a few of the pros, including the union jack-capped Bella Commerford. I was to see plenty more of her later in the day. Before I knew it I was heading back towards the beach, passing stragglers who were just finishing their first lap. And so it was that I found myself scrambling out of the water and heading up the beach, the first of my three disciplines in the bag.

Target time – 1:00:00
Actual time - 56:29

Definitely happy with that!


After leaving the water, it was quite a long run up the beach through a tunnel of people before we entered transition-proper. I peeled down the top of my wetsuit as I ran, grabbed my bike bag and headed for the change tent. Once there, I finished taking off my wetsuit and donned my helmet, bike shoes, mits and number belt while a helper tried to slather sun cream on my shoulders. Then the wetsuit went in the bag and I headed out to try to find my bike. I hobbled down the road in my bike shoes for several hundred metres before I found my trusty steed and then for another few hundred metres before I reached the start of the bike course.

Target time – 5:00
Actual time – 7:18

Like I said, it was a long transition area!


So it was, with just over an hour on the clock that I started the bit of the race that really drew me to Lanzarote. The course started off gently enough along the sea front, but it wasn’t too long before we encountered the hills and wind that Lanzarote is famous for. Fortunately it was overcast, so we weren’t to feel the full force of the sun until later in the day.

While I’d driven the course in the car and ridden some of the bits near CLS, it was still a new experience to me. The profile showed 6 significant “lumps”, so mentally I divided the course into 6 hills, with the feed stations (approximately every 20km) further helping me to break things up.

The first of the “hills” came soon enough and was combining with the wind to wake the legs up! It soon became clear that it was to be another windy race this year. As usually seems to be the case, I came out of the water in the top 100, but pretty soon had stronger cyclists/weaker swimmers coming past me. What wasn’t so expected was the fact that I started re-taking people as the gradient kicked in.

Before too long, the road started to level out and I got to the first feed station. My nutrition plan was to carry my own bars and gels, aiming for at least one of each every hour, and to pick up a bottle of water and a bottle of energy drink from each aid station. I started out with a bottle of energy drink on my down tube and an aero bottle full of lime flavoured Nuun solution on my tri bars. I dumped my empty bottle, grabbed a bottle of water, slotted it into my bottle cage and grabbed a second bottle to fill my aero bottle with. Unfortunately, I realised too late that the 2nd bottle didn’t contain the expected Powerbar drink – it was actually filled with flat Coca Cola. So it was that I found myself with an aero bottle full of lime-flavoured Coke, which was later diluted with various flavours of Powerbar drink. The resulting concoctions were not good, but I had no choice but to drink them!

From the aid station, the road dropped down towards the coast again at El Golfo. This was a fast, gusty descent with some great views. Unfortunately, on Lanzarote a big descent usually means that you’ve got another climb coming up and sure enough we were soon heading back up hill. By this point I was starting to feel that I knew some of my fellow competitors as I re-took them going up the hill. After a while the road levelled out briefly and we found ourselves going back on the road that we’d headed out on. There was a stream of cyclists riding the other way, already over 20km behind us.

After a couple of roundabouts, we were on the road to the Fire Mountains National Park. The road stretched out in front, dead straight, generally upwards and always into a howling gale. People were starting to bunch up as they suffered in the headwind, but the draft-busting motorbikes were in attendance and warning people to keep their distance. At this stage my big diesel engine came into its’ own and I powered along on my tri-bars, overtaking strings of people.

Given the sheer size of the course (a single, large loop), I wasn’t really expecting there to be that many spectators out on the bike course, but I was wrong. There were large numbers of people on most of the climbs and appearing at seemingly random points. They all cheered everyone enthusiastically, regardless of who they were or where they came from. In Austria and Switzerland most of the shouts had been “hoppe hoppe hoppe” or “allez allez allez”. Here these shouts were joined by “venga venga venga” and “vamos vamos”.

From the top of the Fire Mountains began a long descent towards La Santa. Unfortunately, the wind was still in our faces and there were some pretty hairy moments when I was caught by gusts on the bends and thought I was going to end up in a pretty unforgiving-looking lava field! From La Santa, there was a short climb up to Soo, before we had another windy descent on a nice new piece of tarmac into Famara. On this descent I had a slightly surreal moment when I looked to my right to see the TV helicopter hovering at head height just to my right, filming us as we battled the wind.
As we entered Famara my bike computer showed 80km covered, we’d passed 3 of the 6 “hills” on the profile and I was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately, the hardest bit of the ride was yet to come and we were about to start the long climb towards Mirador de Haria, the highest point of the route.

The climb away from Famara was gentle enough and we had the wind behind us for a change. Before too long though we were heading through Teguise and towards the climb proper and things started to get much harder. From Los Valles, the road got pretty steep as we went through a series of tight bends past a wind farm. The wind was once again in our faces and blowing with a vengeance. The mountain tops were in cloud too, so it quite cold and damp and definitely not the conditions that I had in mind. There was a small psychological boost as my bike computer clicked over to 100km, but it was generally quite a grind into the wind until we arrived at the top.

The top of Haria was the site of the “special needs” aid station. We were given cotton bags in which we could put any food that we wanted to help get us round the rest of the course. I’d simply put some extra inner tubes and cartridges in mine as an insurance measure, so as I’d been puncture free I didn’t bother picking mine up. I did have quite a scary moment though when someone in front of me came perilously close to getting his bag caught in his wheel as he tried to empty it on the move.

From the summit of Haria comes one of the highlights of the ride. The descent is very fast and goes round a series of tight hairpin bends. If you dare look over the edge at the top, you can see the bends stacked on top of one another, cut into the rock face. I’m a bit of a wuss on this kind of descent and was reasonably cautious, not wanting to disappear over the un-barriered edge, but our continental friends are just nuts. I had people passing me on either side and tucking low to gain more speed. 70km/h was quite fast enough for me and as it is, I nearly got taken out by a gust of wind on one of the bends!

The descent seemed all too short and we were soon climbing again, this time towards Mirador del Rio. By this point, my legs were starting to feel pretty tired and I was getting ominous twinges in my lower back. I was still passing lots of people on the climb, but I was definitely starting to struggle. Many of the regulars reckon that the view from del Rio alone is worth the entry fee and I have to say that I’m inclined to agree. As you attack the last, steepest bit of the climb you are confronted with an absolutely breathtaking view. The summit finally comes at 118km and most of the climbing is then behind you.

After picking up bottles from the feed station at the top, it was a very speedy, wind-assisted descent towards the coast. The road then levelled out a bit and we were on a much busier main road (most of the roads are open to traffic during the race), which climbed ever so gradually. At this point, my back really started to give me grief and I wasn’t comfortable at all. I still had nearly 50km to ride and I was in a lot of pain. I was conscious that my shoulders had turned very dry and salty, so I forced myself to keep drinking. My Powerbars and gels had long-since lost their appeal too and it was a real effort to keep eating them, but I found out last year at Switzerland what the consequences of not taking on enough fuel on the bike were.

The road eventually turned north again and I found myself once again riding uphill into a strong head wind. It was actually a relief to ride out of the saddle on the steeper bits to stretch my back out. Despite my discomfort I still seemed to be catching and passing people. At about 150km we turned off the main road and onto the worst bit of road surface on the whole course. To describe it as tarmac was being generous and the stony field next to the road looked like it would be better for riding on! The road was littered with bottles, tubs, tubes and other bits that had shaken loose of peoples’ bikes. Looking at my bike computer it seemed increasingly unlikely that I’d get round in my target split of 6 hours.

Once back on a proper road surface, we were soon on the final bit of climbing for the day with the wind once again behind us. After cresting the final hill, the descent towards PdC was absolutely insane! It was mainly on very small roads with lots of twists and turns. I hit my maximum speed of the ride at 75km/h. I was trying to be cautious – it really wouldn’t have been good to wipe out so close to the end – but once again the kamikaze elements were out in force and I witnessed a few very near misses.

The road finally levelled out again and we were back in PdC. The final couple of km took us along the seafront road, alongside the run course. There were only a few people out on the course, but the crowds were starting to build. It was a relief to arrive at the end of the bike course and be able to finally get off my bike. My bike computer indicated that the course was a couple of km short, but I was soon to make up those up in transition!

Target time – 6:00:00
Actual time – 5:57:49

Very happy with that!


It was an awesome ride, but I was pretty glad that it was over. I really wasn’t ready to run though. I handed my bike to a helper and hobbled the length of transition in my bike shoes. After grabbing my run bag I headed for the change tent and was greeted by a familiar and very welcome face. Terri was still working in the transition area (she’d agreed to help until she saw me come in from the bike course), so she applied my sun cream while I discarded my bike shoes, helmet and mits in favour of running shoes and sun cap. I told her about my sore back and how it was going to make running uncomfortable, but she basically told me to get out there and run.

Target time – 5:00
Actual time – 9:49!!!!!!

Once again, it was a very long transition area and I really wasn’t that enthusiastic about going running!

The Run

Running is definitely not my favourite thing. As I set off, my back felt very sore and restrictive and it felt like I was doing little more than a shuffle. The sun was out and it was starting to get hot. There were only about 200 people out on the run course when I started and it seemed like every one of them was moving faster than me. It was going to be a very long afternoon! The clock showed 7hrs 11min when I left transition, so I had 9hrs 48min to beat the cut-off and 3hrs 48min to hit my 11 hour target time. I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish, so it was just going to be a case of keeping the demons at bay and trying to press on as hard as I could to record a decent time. It would be so easy to give into the doubting voices and start walking for a while.

The run course basically went out along the seafront road to a hotel and back 4 times. There was an aid station approximately every 2km and as long as you crossed the timing mat at each end it seemed to be a bit of a free for all (although we were supposed to keep to the right of the lane). It also turned out to be not as flat as I’d expected! There weren’t any hills as such, but the 3km at the transition end of the loop was decidedly undulating, with a series of short up and down sections. The first of these rises came right at the start of the loop.

To my pleasant surprise, the pain in my back started to subside and I actually felt like I was moving quite well. I made a point of walking through the aid stations and taking on at least 2 cups of coke, water or energy drink and depositing some cold water on my head. I also took a high sodium gel every 30 minutes to try to keep my salt levels topped up. The outward leg just seemed to go on forever and it really felt like we were running to the airport!

About 3km in, Bella Commerford passed me on her return leg. She was following the “2nd placed woman” bike and looked to be closing fast on the leader. I gave her a big shout each time I passed her (7 times in total). The next time I saw her she was in the lead and on her way to a great win.

The turn point finally came and I was starting to feel quite strong. I began to pass some of the people who’d come past me at the start of the loop. The course started to get much busier as more and more people came off the bike. There was still a steady flow of people riding the last few km alongside the run course. At the end of the first lap I received a yellow wrist band. These bands are very prized possessions and let everyone know how far you’ve covered – yellow for 1 lap, blue for 2 laps, pink for 3 laps. Only when you had the full set would you be guided towards the finish chute at the end of your lap. I developed a distinct case of “wrist band envy” when I saw people with more bands than me! I hit the lap button on my watch as I started my 2nd lap and it showed 53 minutes for the lap.

The 2nd lap felt much more comfortable than the first, but the splits were later to show that I was gradually slowing down. About 15km in my stomach started to rebel against the cocktail of Powerbars, gels and various sugary drinks. This was sorted out by a quick visit to the portaloos and my stomach remained fairly settled for the rest of the race. As I approached the end of the 2nd lap I spotted Terri in the crowd. She gave me a big shout. The clock showed 9hours as I ended my 2nd loop and the crowd at the finish were going wild as Bert Jaemmer was coming in to claim the win.

The 3rd lap turned into a bit of a slog. I was more than half way into the run, but I still had a very long way to go. My quads were starting to feel very painful at this point. I was also conscious of the fact that I was now coated in salt and was feeling pretty cooked. By this point there were very few cyclists coming in and most of the field were out on the run. I started to spot a few familiar faces and gave them some words of encouragement where I could. There were a lot of people who looked to be in pretty bad shape. The crowds along the course had really started to build up. Several of the bars had set up sound systems and there was plenty of welcome encouragement around the whole loop. I spotted Terri again at the end of the 3rd loop as I headed for the turn point and my much-prized pink wrist band. The clock showed 9:56 and I had over an hour to meet my target time.

The 4th lap was a real battle of wills. I was on my way home, but my legs were really starting to protest. I was getting twinges of cramp in my quads and arms and I really wanted it all to end. I was still passing people with fewer bands than me and was picking off other people who were also on their last lap. The archway for the final turnaround point was a very welcome sight and I only had 5.25km to go to reach my 3rd Ironman finish. It doesn’t sound like much, but it seemed to take forever. I really wanted to walk the uphill sections, but I forced myself to keep running. The final stragglers were still rolling in on the bike course. They’d certainly had a long day out in the hills and a long way to go.

As I ran through the final aid station I knew I had less than 500m to go and it was all down hill. The finish line came into view and the noise from the crowd was huge. I brandished my full complement of wrist bands at the “gate keepers” for the finish chute and was directed towards the finish line. I’d been running in fairly close proximity with a few other “last lappers” and slowed slightly to let the guy in front have some space so that we could each soak up the atmosphere and enjoy our run in. Then I was heading for the finish tape and heard the immortal words “Dave Sidgwick from Great Britain, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. The next thing I knew I had a medal round my neck and the race director was shaking me by the hand.

Target time – 3:50:00
Actual time – 3:43:44

Total time – 10:55:09

After the race

After crossing the line, I was directed towards the medical area, where I was given a drink and some food. It looked like an army field hospital, with people on beds, wrapped in blankets with saline drips in their arms. Every so often, someone new was carried in on a stretcher. I was asked if I wanted a saline drip, but politely declined. For some people, the post-race drip is part of the Lanzarote experience, but I wasn’t feeling too bad (apart from my legs!). From there, I headed to the massage tent for some light relief on my aching muscles, collected my prized finishers t-shirt and kit and met back up with Terri. After a taxi ride back to La Santa, a shower and some very unhealthy food, I felt almost human again and slept the sleep of the righteous.

Did the race live up to its’ billing as “worlds toughest Ironman”? Well, it was certainly the hardest and most satisfying race I’ve ever done and the bike course is just amazing. I’ll definitely be heading back for more some time in the future and would recommend it to anyone
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 12:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent race report Dave! Well written and gave me the feeling of being in the race. Cool It also just about made my mind up about taking it on!!! Shocked

Brilliant result too! You sounded rightly chuffed about it!! Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

goosebumps mate! awesome report and an awesome performance!

bring on 23rd May 2009 Very Happy

see you on the start line Slacko Wink
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MoJon wrote:
goosebumps mate! awesome report and an awesome performance!

bring on 23rd May 2009 Very Happy

see you on the start line Slacko Wink

I didn't mention in which direction it made up my mind. Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 1:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great report and a job well done Cool
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 2:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a great report; inspirational. Well done!
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 2:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

brilliant report m8. great for those considering going to lanza next yr like me..ta
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Goosebumps, yes.....and I'm not afraid to admit I got a bit choked up with the excitement of it all! Felt like I was there.
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 3:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Superb report, enjoyed reading that with me afternoon cuppa and a Digestive.

Great time as well.

Slacko!!!! See ya there matey Wink
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 4:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's write ups like that one which reinforce my thoughts that taking on IM was SO the right thing to do.

Big shout for your race effort and a brilliant piece of writing to remember it by Cool Worship
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 5:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just echo what everyone else has said - one of the best race reports I have read and you obviously did very well. Congratulations.
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 5:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good job Whisk

Surely Norseman is next on the agenda so you can really judge which is the toughest ironman of them all ...........!?!?
Life is free - take it in big chunks.....

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2015 ?
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 5:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fantastic report! Well done you should be extremely proud!
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 6:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

aye carumba !!!! Very Happy

superb report mate and a really fantastic performance in those conditions...... never mind getting excited for Lanza 09, that report has got me all giddy for IMUK this year.......

Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy
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PostPosted: Thu May 29, 2008 6:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Toyota_Crown wrote:
brilliant report m8. great for those considering going to lanza next yr like me..ta

Excellent report, Dave/Whisk. Made me think about training through the British winter, too...Hmm...Lanza and Barcelona...
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