Recap of 2016


Ironman 70.3 Durban, South Africa, 19 June 2016.

 

Starting off the year there was never a set plan or goal-race in mind. It was to be a year where I would keep working on my weaknesses, with a strong focus on becoming a bike ‘monster’ as coach, Brett Sutton, would say. And then going out and executing in various races whenever it fitted into training. It was about improving and building a foundation to take on the best in the big races in the years to come.

The year got off to a great start at 70.3 East London. Where, thanks in part, to some favourable weather conditions, I went on to break the bike course and overall course record leading from the front for most of the day. In the build up to the race I had been very focussed on building my bike strength and it was very satisfying to see the hard work pay off on the day. Racing in January obviously means that you avoid most of the Northern hemisphere ‘powerhouses’ but, none the less, it was a step in the right direction.

70.3 SA Finish

70.3 SA Finish

After East London it was time to focus on going the full distance at the African Champs in P.E. which is now guaranteed to attract a high quality international field with its big prize purse and stacked Kona points offering. In the build up to the race in April I took part in two more superb local events a week apart, The Midlands Ultra and West Coast Warm Water Weekend. Thanks to new sponsors, MiWay, and fantastic event organisation, both races ran smoothly and added a nice break to the monotony of the long Ironman training hours. To come away with the win and new course records in both races was an added bonus.

Having finished 4th at Ironman South Africa the year before, I certainly had my eye on the podium this time round. As expected, a strong contingent of pro men had made their way to the friendly city. In hindsight it was clear to see that I had neglected my swim training a little too much in the lead in to the race and I ended up giving up more time than I would have liked to my competitors, during the first leg. Not coming from a swim background means that finding the balance to be competitive in all three disciplines is a juggling act that requires adding just the right amount of all the ingredients into the pot and then cooking it just right. Each race is different though and you never know how the tactics are going to unfold on race day. After a solid bike, keeping pace with the lead group but not catching them, I set off on the run with a point to prove. The tactic of go until you blow and then hang on, can work well during a 70.3 but Ironman requires a little more patience on most days. After working my way into 3rd position and within reach of the two leaders, the Ironman bear latched firmly to my back and slowly but surely dragged me down. So that when I got re-overtaken for 3rd with 1km to go there wasn’t much I could do to shake it off.

Nevertheless, it was still one of my better Ironman efforts and had pretty much secured my slot for Kona. Again with perfect 20/20 hindsight this may have been a good time to take a little bit of downtime and recover well, to then target the second half of the European season. Instead I carried on training as if the last 5 months had meant nothing and committed to another three 70.3 races not long after the full.

The first of the three was 70.3 Barcelona. After months of Ironman training I was lacking the raw speed that a 70.3 requires. Together with a very technical and hilly bike course and some strong and fearless European bikers, it meant I got my ass handed to me.

This lit the racing flame in my belly again and I headed to Switzerland for a short 2.5 week training camp where Brett, and the added drive of training with others, whipped me back into shape pretty quickly.

It was then onto 70.3 Staffordshire (UK), where I was once again reminded of just how much benefit there is from training with a swim squad. I had one of my best swims here, caught the lead bike group early on and then felt super comfortable on the run in the cold and wet British summer conditions. It was to be another win and course record in what was shaping up to be a very good year.

70.3 Staffordshire Huw Fairclough

The decision to fly back to South Africa and race 70.3 Durban was largely based on the need to stick within my 3 month Schengen Visa requirements. I had planned on spending the European summer in St. Moritz, Switzerland training with the squad until the end of August but needed a couple of weeks outside the union to avoid overstaying my welcome.

I didn’t need any other excuse to head south and race in my home town. So a week after Staffordshire I was on the start line in Durban, facing a very messy Indian Ocean.

A lot has been said about the swim in Durban this year. Personally, I felt that it looked safe to start the swim, maybe not for the age groupers but certainly for the pros. What almost everyone seemed to underestimate though, was just how strong the current was flowing. Even though we started up stream of the first turn buoy, by the time you had duck dived a few waves and lost momentum, we ended up way off course once past the backline. After we eventually got round the first turn buoy, it was a straight run along the coast until the left turn to the beach. Unfortunately this buoy had been washed away by the time we got there, and so once alongside the swim exit, the lifeguards turned us ashore. Getting pumped by a big wave coming back in was a relevant way to end off a memorable swim.

The bike and run seemed pretty tame in comparison and after taking the lead just after the halfway point on the bike I managed to hold it until the end and better Stu Marais’ course time that he had set the year before.

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After breaking my collarbone just before Ironman Switzerland in 2015, I was quite keen to take on the course this year which is only a short drive away from our training base in St. Moritz. Again, maybe some more rest at this time would have been wise, but with a month to go before that race I flew straight back to Switzerland from Durban to start my long-course prep. I definitely underestimated how fit I was at this stage and I think this masked just how much the last three races, intense training camp and all the flying had taken out of me.

When I returned to camp, my first proper run session after Durban was on the Thursday; an infamous Sutto track set that was at the peak of Nicola Spirig’s Olympic campaign. I was actually feeling pretty fresh having just stepped off the plane and launched into the first few reps far too quickly. Twelve kilometers into the run, my calf had seized up completely and I was left limping for the next two days. Once the calf had released, I tried to build back into the running but was then suffering from a very painful ankle. After nursing it and trying to push through for the next 2 weeks, I eventually bit the bullet and went to get an MRI. As I had feared, it showed a pretty serious stress fracture of the Talus bone in my ankle. Not a very common injury apparently, and one not to be taken lightly as all loading of the leg goes through this bone. The Swiss surgeon was happy for me to be swimming a week after breaking my clavicle the year before, so when he said I had to wear a cast and stay on crutches for the next 6 weeks, I knew it was pretty serious.

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Sadly this was the end of the European season and my Kona goals for the year. My wife, Nicole, had just flown over and was planning on spending the next few months traveling with me. She had taken leave from work and we had given up the lease on our rental house, packing up everything into storage. The timing was less than ideal but at least it meant I had a baggage carrier for the trip back. I’m not quite sure how I would have managed the train and plane ride home lugging bike bags and gear whilst on crutches otherwise.

The rehab has been pretty slow but steady since then. It’s amazing how quickly you can lose muscle and muscle memory after not using a leg for 6 weeks. By the time you read this I would have hopefully completed another two races at the end of the year and will have a better idea of how I have recovered. It was a year of lessons, most pertinent being to remember that our bodies are not machines. As athletes we are accustomed to blocking out pain and continuing deep into the hurt box, it’s where we find improvements both physically and mentally. I guess the trick is to be attuned enough to your body to know where the breaking point is. One cannot rush the process of improving as an endurance athlete, patience you must have and the force will be with you.

 

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