Ironman Brasil had been on my radar for a while. Ever since I first heard about it years ago, when I was introduced to a Brazilian guy Dede, who was the bike course marshal at Rocky Point. Of course, it turns out Dede had been third in the race in the 1980’s! Respect. I liked him from the get-go and bump into him every-so-often when I’m back in Tucson. A laugh is, onetime I met him (in 2009 in the future lol!!!) in Circuit City (I thought I recognised him) when he came over to say hi to my buddy Mike, he recognised me too and we chat and he says [rhetorically] to me “..but you live here don’t you..” lol. The race appealed to me as one I had to do, so when I was looking for an alternative to getting fried in Ironman Arizona and I heard Cathy (clm) and some others from the Page were in – well, so was I but I had some, ahem, issues to deal with before I could sign up.
Training had been done – though not as much as I’d like, as after racing Worlds in Australia in November, I developed a weird heart thing…nuffink serious like…it just felt like it was missing beats and if I drank red wine it felt like someone had it in a death grip! 3 months of lowish intensity (trust me ,when yer heart is going bloop de bloop bloop and stuttering like an old car, you’d back off the intensity too!) steady training over the winter, until my Cardiologist gave me the all clear lol (in early Feb) to train hard again and go do Ironman. Preceding the deciding acid test, I had to wear one of them Borg-esque tape recording monitoring devices for 24 hours – man there were wires everywhere (apparently my heart rate dropped to 34 while ah was deep in Alpha waves at 3am). So, onto the test (ultrasound piccie of my heart first…I expected to see a pristine well defined racebred machine…but….oooh shiiiiit what them scraggly white fings and all that gunk? S’all good apparently…) Next, the Bruce Protocol Fitness Death Test riiiight!! The cardiology nurses were obviously only used to dealing wiv the unfit end of the fitness curve as when I’d asked if I should bring my running kit they said – no need, I’d only be walking! Even better, one wasn’t impressed when I contradicted her patronising advice that I’d be training at 60% of max HR – she’d obviously never heard of John Anderson’s training – as I told her I trained at 90%+, sorry John, I mean 95%+ 😉 I think she thought I was all talk, until my cardiologist arrived and told her I was super fit and asked what the record was for the year – 12.5 minutes she said for some racing driver – and he said nonchalantly that I was going to beat that – easy. I told them they had uh better crank up the aircon as I was likely to perspire a trifle…I’m forthcoming with my well observed max heart rate as 172 and then off we go on the treadmill of terror – as the levels increased (pace AND slope!, every 3 mins), my pain proportionately too – I reached level 4 (or 5 depending whether yer start from 0 or 1) from 12 mins to 15 mins and I’m cooking along at 170 bpm watching my HR on a 4 screen ECG and waiting see see if Dr Cardio will see somefink bad and call a halt to this suffering – but no, he just smiles – I’m losing feeling in my legs and no, he still doesn’t say stop, he says all lookin’ good, just finish this level – I can stop at any time – aye right, I think I’ll quit now… I finish the level and score 15 mins (beat the racing driver of course, oops sorry dude)….turns out it’s 3 mins less than my bruv in Oz and one of my friends in Tucson…ah well…I don’t remember the nurse’s expression as a death session with no speed work for 3 months was ahem making me feel less than healthy and if yer gonna have an MI well I’m in the best place to have it! I did escape to Tucson for 3 weeks training but got some horrendous flu deal with 4 days to go before I came home…took me a few weeks to finally exterminate that once I got home, so my biking was less than I wanted…aye, you know – welcome to Ironman.
I flew loooong Edinburgh/Zurich/Sao Paolo then a local TAM flight (worth taking to check out the erm trolly dollies ahem flight attendants – my buddy had described them as straight out of a Robert Palmer video…) to Floripa for which I had to pay excess luggage – lots of 00’s but it was in Reals! Cathy met me at the airport when I arrived on Wednesday (what a star she is!) as she had rented a little compact car – we just managed to fit all my luggage into it (IronScot does NOT travel light!). She had also found the hotel we booked, the previous year while competing in Ironman and it was in Jurerê, less than 2 miles from the race start. It was fabulous (free WiFi) and a great deal (Villas del Sol y Mar). There were apartments to rent too – right on the beach, which was only 100 yards walk from the hotel. It was away from the athlete hubbub and in a lovely quiet location with a number of nearby eating places. There, she introduced me to a friend of hers from Portugal, Sergio Marques, who was competing too. He looked quite fit until I found out he had clocked the fastest run split in Kona 2006 (2:43 ouch!) . Turns out I’d seen him podium in Arizona in 2005 with 3rd and then 5th spot in 2006. To say he was a fab bloke is an understatement – a star – a gem. More so even, when I found out that he flew in on Iberia and his bike hasn’t turned up. Breakfast breakfast breakfast at the hotel – sooooo good I had to eat 3 every day! Mmmmmm sooo many treats and the staff made you a fresh carrot/apple juicer drink while yer were hoovering up the tasties.
Things were nice and relaxed with plenty time to the race – only problem was – and it was a biggie – Sergio’s bike still hadn’t arrived. Poor kid was looking to place top 5 in the race and he was staying much much calmer than I woulda been…Everybody in triathlon knows Cathy so I kept meeting celebs – Hillary Biscay was one…the wonderful Ironman couple Cathy and Bill Taylor – but of course they know me too from a few previous Ironman encounters. That (Thursday) night Cathy suggested we go to a little local restaurant on the run course (lucky for us of course Sergio’s Portuguese was as close to Brazilian Portuguese as you could get, albeit some words and especially food items were different) that she had been to last year. We were the only patrons! Little starter tasters while we waited for our main course – grilled tahina, a mm mmmm mmmm local fish caught that day and we had the whole thing, pastries with cheese and shrimp, crab cakes and a beer for Cathy – I said it was my treat – can you believe the heavenly tasting meal for 3 was 67 real or $45?!!!!
Cathy and I decided that since we were sorted for the race that we needed to do something about Sergio’s predicament – I think he was resigned to not racing if his bike didn’t turn up – which was a fair call when you’re a Pro at his level – but miracles can happen, so we started to think about sourcing a replacement and went searching for a loaner. An example of Sergio’s personality is he said that he didn’t want Cathy and me to mess up our day – we had nothing else to do and it kept our minds off the race – plus helping someone is the best way to spend a day. Cathy did so much chasing and hustling and bustling and we drove round bike shops but most wanted a full deposit to lend a bike. Poor Sergio was looking a bit down now, realising his own bike was SNAFU. Eventually, Cathy managed to get Sergio a Cervelo from a Brazil based dealer who was at the expo, Max. He had to borrow a helmet which he would pick up later and buy new pedals. Sergio borrowed my helmet and tried it out – I could tell he wasn’t happy – maybe it wasn’t even what he wanted – but he was going to give it a go.
There were some astonishingly different looking trees further out of town – very unfamiliar and almost alien – a cool reminder that I was on a different continent. I did like the scenery – green inland but hilly too and beaches and beaches.
There were some really good ideas at this race – a number tag to put on your wetsuit zip – nice touch, the best transition bags ever – made from a really tough plastic with a cotton drawstring and a separate transition bag to put your wet swim gear into (handly when you don’t take all yer clothes outta the bike bag!). The food everywhere was great – the people too – very friendly. On Friday night we had dinner with (another celeb Cathy knew) Olaf Sabatschus (returning to Ironman after having been diagnosed and treated for cancer). He was a top bloke – really funny and entertaining and we had great fun chatting with him – he even lent Sergio an aero front wheel for the race.
On race morning the hotel organised an electric super sized golf cart to take us all to the race start – they were fab.
Final race preparation was somewhat more difficult than usual when, without warning we were plunged into darkness in the change tents, as all the lights went out. It took a good few mins to get the generators going again – all part of the fun stress. The water temperature for the swim was pretty much the same as the day I’d gone for a dip – about 21 deg C – just perfect – no need for my wetsuit hood. There were hot air balloons on the shore to mark the exits and tall swim buoys out on the turnarounds – you couldn’t miss them – getting to them was another story….I started way right and was swimming ok but there were some currents which got stronger on the second lap and I had to work to get to the turnaround…even worse was trying to get to the exit point on the beach where the current was definitely pushing me away from where I was looking – hoping to swim in a straight line – frustrating when it seemed ages ago that I’d seen the sand just below me as I returned to the shallows. I eventually emerged in around 1:24 so was fairly pleased as ocean swims are a bit of a lottery…there was a long run up to the change tent…
I set off on the bike under mostly cloudy skies with a temperature on the cool side at 18 deg C but I wasn’t complaining about that. I wasn’t in the best bike shape of my life but thought the bike course would suit me – I don’t think I’d be any faster on a totally flat course as my back would hurt staying aero for so long – there were enough rolling hills to make me change position but nothing mountainous to really slow me down. On the first climb heading towards Centro I pass Andrea (Cathy’s friend) and shout good luck to her as it’s her first Ironman…she shouts back “hey Peter, nice pants!!” As I settled into a nice pace and started passing people – I became more and more aware that not only was there an occasional person riding on the left (instead of the right) but that the majority were, and I don’t speak Portuguese to shout “ON YER RIGHT”. In the rules – as we all should know this is not permitted and it’s called Blocking – I’m sorry to have to say but in all my triathlon races I’ve never ever ever ever seen so much blocking and consequently dangerous riding as in this race I regularly pass anywhere from 200 to 500 people on an Ironman bike leg and in this race I passed well over 200, of which I would say at least 150 were riding on the extreme left of the lane – I mean on the friggin white line on the left side when they should have been on the right side – you can work out from the numbers of nationalities competing where the problem must orginate. It was scary. It was extremely dangerous. It was compeletely unexpected. It was annoying. It was bad. And yes, it did spoil the experience. I even heard Sergio said he saw some of the same and when he passed someone on the right who was blocking him, he got a yellow card! If these people (almost all, men) weren’t expecting to be passed then my life was in danger – what if they moved across as I was passing them. At one point I passed an American kid who threw a water bottle straight under my nose, narrowly missing me – he must have known he was throwing it into traffic – when I swore at him in English he apologised – just another with bad cycling etiquette.
The second lap when I got to Centro it smelt like rain and all the up and down ramps on the concrete road surface looked like they would be turned into skidpan central – at one point it did start to sprinkle – I prayed I would start heading back before it really started and I made it. I BIG chain ringed the whole course There are 3 hills (2 are 100 foot vertical ascent and the third is about 300 foot) on the 2 loop course which you have to do once in each direction and they’re not that bad. I know my bike time is looking good and possibly on target for a PR. At halfway and then again late on in the race I eat another pack of Shot Blox which work really well as usually I can’t eat at that point. As I make the far away turnround for the last time, I’m tiring and starting to chill, so I put on my armwarmers which I had sensibly stuffed in my jersey pockets. The warmth helps me.
I’m cruising past tiring cyclists along the dual carriageway through Centro, heading back to the race start/finish. There is plenty of room as we are on the right hand side of the (3 lanes in each direction) road with a central reservation and we have the whole [right] lane closest to it. Up ahead I see a girl on the right, with a guy in the middle of the lane approaching her, to pass. I’m gaining steadily on them both at 21 mph. I’m keeping to the left as I come up toward the guy passing the girl and then it all goes horribly wrong – I hear a “HUY” and I guess he is registering some surprise at being passed – problem is he turns his head left to look at me and of course his bike slews left too – I’m on my tri bars and no time to react or bounce him and worse still, I’m all out of road as there is a high kerb demarking the central reservation. I hear crunching and scraping noises as I see and feel him make contact and get tangled up with his pedal and foot tangling with mine – then more scraping, grinding, crunching and the inevitable – CRASH – I hit the kerb at 20 mph, launch into the air and face plant on the grass in the middle of the central reservation, like a swan dive, landing on my hands – bike trailing me. He’s not so lucky as he crumples, bike and rider against the kerb. I stagger to my feet, in a state of shock – I can’t believe someone has just taken me out on the bike in an Ironman. Some spectators come running over and I ask them if my face is bleeding . Someone says an ambulance has been called for the other guy which is good. I’m confused – lost – winded – trying to work out what I need to do – I have this resigned feeling that for now my race is over – it must be terminal. However, as I slowly check myself out, nothing seems broken (though in fact a week after I got home, with my left hand still hurting when I swam or used it, I went to Casualty and after X-ray, they confirmed it was broken). The miracle happens when I pick my bike up – expecting serious damage – however, I can find nothing other than a few scrapes – no broken wheels – not even punctured. Wow. Even if I had gotten my head around continuing, which I hadn’t even considered as yet, I was expecting serious issues in making the next 20 miles. I struggle to make myself understood, not being able to speak Portuguese. The people seem to be encouraging me to go but I’m concerned that maybe I will be required to talk to an official. I realise there is nothing I can do for the injured guy – I feel sorry for him, hoping he is not badly injured, his race over. After asking a few times if it is ok for me to go, to continue – I decide that the Field is with me and wants me to finish this bike section, so I gingerly head off. A couple of bike service guys on a motorbike have stopped and they are kindly asking if my bike is ok. I say I think so but don’t know until I try riding it – I ask them if they would follow me for a while to see if all was well but they said they needed to go help someone else. I notice that my left hand hurts a lot when I hit bumps hmmmm but hey, I’m moving along. Looking back at my HRM I spent only 2.5 minutes stopped with the crash – it seemed an awful lot longer at the time…
I pedal the next 20 miles just wanting to get back and off that bike. I’m very very relieved when I reach the end of the bike leg and hand my battle scarred Litespeed to a volunteer. Since the official bike time has both transitions included, I’ve taken mine from my Polar HRM, which gives me a 5:42:30 split and my second fastest in Ironman. After the race and before I’d worked out my split , I was really hoping that it wouldn’t turn out to be a PR as I certainly didn’t want to have this bike ride as my fastest. It turns out that even without the crash it would have only been close…
I have to stop in T2 to tape my foot up to stop my ongoing metatarsal injury from going chronic on the run. I eat another packet of Shot Blox but I’m still a little dazed, shaken and shocked from the bike crash just over an hour ago. I need to get out there on the run and finish this race, so I set off. There are 2 serious hills on the run – both are a 70 foot ascent but the second is more like a wall. My left hand hurts as I run…I know the reason but I won’t find out exactly why until a week after I get home..I run for 90 mins (apart from the no_way_but_walk hills) until I need a break, then I run a little more around the turnaround point and then back over the hills again – this time I walk them both plus the distance in between them.
They’re too steep and too late in the run for me to do anything else. Then it’s back to the usual run and walk the aid stations. I see Bella Bayliss (Comerford) on the run, looking strong and shout some encouragement to her. I hope she gets some energy from a Scottish accent miles from home. 2 serious long walks come after 2.5 hours and I only manage a short run between as my body is objecting. My right knee completely gives way at one point – a new one on me – but hey, it’s been a strange race – so I walk for a while before gently setting off running again. The run goes quite a bit out of town into the dark and I’m worried about how cool it’s getting (I do a lot of worrying in this race) as it’s dark now. So long as I’m actually running I’m warm enough, but when I stop to walk I cool off and even start to chill slightly -a great incentive to keep running if ever there was one, I hear you say. I continue the run-and-walk-deal though the walks get longer. I’ve developed a habit of tapping the mile marker boards at the side of the road and counting them down to keep me focussed and positive from 18 or so miles. It really is uplifting as you slap, 21,22, 23….and then the music and bright lights are closer and closer. I urge my poor tired (and broken!) body to run once more as I try and speed up for the finish. Again, ever so glad to have made it. Not that I was too concerned but my run time was 5:08:23, as I knew I was probably going to go sub 13, which I did finishing in 12:43:21.
I remember the race director telling us how he always wanted ice cream after an Ironman (not for me thanks..) and so there would be plenty – I would have preferred hot soup! I was getting cold rapidly after finishing the race (ice cream didn’t help lol) and had to queue for some pizza. I visited the medical tent to see if I could get a blanket but it seemed lost in translation as it appeared the bartering was if I came in and lay down I’d get a blanket – I shivered off somewhere else…back to where the cold post race fuel was but there was nowhere warm for me to sit and let my body breathe slowly back to life, so I decided that the only thing to do was to head out of the recovery area, bad as a felt and get my warm clothes then manhandle all my gear back the couple of miles to the hotel. Luckily, the cops didn’t seem to mind you riding along in the dark loaded with bags (not like Austria eh!). Only thanks to the fact that the transition bags were the best I’d ever used, they were good thick plastic and with a decent cotton drawstring, did I manage to loop 2 of them over my head and pedal slowly back to the hotel. It is waaaay easier to ride than it is to walk after an Ironman. The reception staff at the hotel congratulated me, telling me that Sergio had pulled out (not really a surprise). Back in my room, in post-Ironman recovery mode, I’m feeling pretty fragile, I’m thinking I need a shower (actually I’m smelling like I need a shower), I’m still cold (there is no heating in the rooms – nice climate!) and all of a sudden I start to shake and my teeth are chattering…I need to get warm – quick. The only option is to crawl into bed…I force myself to quickly splash under the shower then amidst a violent bout of retching (my body’s response to getting even colder being wet) climb into bed, pulling all quilts and covers on top of me. There I lie for a long time until the shivering stops – my body not able to generate much heat at all. I succumb to a half hour or so coma and when I wake, no I don’t feel much better but I get up and put some warm clothes on. Since Cathy’s room is beside mine at the top of one of the turrets, later on I hear her return and go out to see how her race went. She is pleased. Once she’s showered we head out about 1am for some much needed burger, fries and a beer.
The next day I went with Cathy as she was taking her bike across the island to have it packed up and we did a little sightseeing. That evening Cathy, Sergio and I met Cathy’s friend and IRONMAN Andrea and her group for a post race dinner celebration which was fab but a bit too tame…I coulda done with some semi-serious drinking but most people were flying home the next day. I’ve no complaints about the company or the food that evening – all were great. I had a Caipirinha Nice surprise was the fact that it was “ele sim; ele nao” which means the blokes pay and the chicks don’t lol. All yer could eat and drink for 8 of us (lucky we had 4 men/4 women!) was 800 reals oooh wow about $150
The next day I chilled out hanging at the beach and the guys at the hotel arranged for someone to take me to the Airport the next morning in their own car – it cost but it was very cheap and I was very grateful. No excess baggage on my return flight to a different Sao Paolo airport, Congonhas (which was the best flight the London TAM rep could find for me on the return, she was very helpful when booking it thank goodness) but then I had to get a coach across to Sao Paolo International Airport where my flight to Zurich was departing. It was kinda complicated and a little stressful until you worked out which coach it was – showing the boarding pass of the flight I just got off, got me on the bus. Interesting to look out of the window at the city as we traversed – quite poor and polluted and b-i-g.
Ever wondered how friendly the checkin staff would be when yer have a gold card and are flying Swiss Air – well – don’t – I scoot down the empty First Class lane when my flight opens for checkin and Mr Unfriendly greets me – even with my gold card he weighed all my luggage and charged me excess…if I’d been able to think more clearly I would have told him that the bike shouldn’t be weighed but there was a fixed charge – anyway on a Gold Star Alliance card he shoulda waved me through – last time I fly Swiss. I did write a complaint letter when I returned home and they refunded the difference between what I paid in excess luggage fees and what the fixed charge for a bike is – again they could have refunded it all, but they didn’t. The flights were bang on time (very Swiss) and I guess so was the attitude of the Flight Attendants – prolly ok if you were German…not for me I’m afraid.
In summary not my happiest Ironman – truth is I was scared on the bike that all those people riding on the wrong side of the road were going to cause an accident – well they didn’t but someone else did, but I made it to the finish line of my 10th Ironman. I wrote to the race director Carlos to praise the good things I saw in the race and to highlight the bad – he never replied…I hope if you ever go there you have a safe race – it is a good race but it wouldn’t take much to make it a great one.