Ironman Brazil Race Report - Debbie Munton and Glenda Goscomb
Having entered Ironman Brazil nearly a year before, suddenly the day was looming and we left Heathrow for the island of Florianopolis in southern Brazil on Friday 17th May.
This was nearly a week before the race but with the length of the journey, jet lag recovery and acclimatisation turned out to be a good call. The first challenge we faced was trying to run from the BA Lounge in Terminal 5 to one of the distant gates in less than 10 minutes as we were as usual talking too much and failed to notice the final call. As we sprinted to the gate with loaded rucksacks and full stomachs (having just consumed a large dinner as pre night flight carbo loading) my heart was pounding and legs burning in a way that made me think this Ironman might not be easy. However, we made it onto the plane, changed into the triathlon nightwear that makes others stare (compression tights and old race T Shirt) and settled down for the 11.5 hour flight. A rapid change in Sao Paulo onto our internal flight and we arrived in Florianopolis in mid morning.
The next week was spent testing the swim, bike and run courses, doing short training sessions and meeting many other athletes as they arrived. Temperatures were around 20 - 23c in the day with the sea at 19/20c. Perfect conditions for us and certainly a lot more pleasant than the last 6 months at home when our training seems to have been completed in an average temperature of 1c. We had chosen to travel with Endurance Sports Travel and Ken Glah who owns the business and has completed Kona a record 29 times was a mine of useful information. In our first swim recce, he explained the strong current on the swim leg and how it pulls swimmers off course. This advice was invaluable on race day. We also cycled most of the bike course in two trips and saw the nastier hilly sections of the run leg from a bus. Here the guidance was to walk down the steep sections as well as up to save hammering our quads. This is something I had never considered before as I always saw downhills as free speed! Needless to say there was plenty of eating and socialising to pass the time too and Debbie discovered the delicious 'Coco Gelado' green coconuts which are sold in little bars on the beach and are a fantastic source of pre race hydration. We managed to resist the other local delicacy of caipirinha - a strong cocktail made with local sugar cane spirit. limes, crushed ice and sugar. As people started to arrive thick and fast, we met lots of new friends including a few of the women pro's who we grilled on nutrition and approach. By Friday morning, the Jurere Beach area was buzzing with athletes. Even the shortest run or ride meant mingling with the super fit and lean looking Latinos. We also became rather disloyal to our bikes - at home we always felt quite happy with out racing steeds but here they were a bit like turning up to a UK race with a Halfords hybrid recently purchased for £30 from eBay! We had never seen so many amazing and expensive bikes. Top of the range P5's, Shiv's etc with electronic group sets, seriously deep rims/disc wheels abounded with every gizmo known to man attached. The Expo provided a retail extravaganza and we didn't disappoint, buying a few new items plus extra gels as we had found that none were provided at the aid stations.
Registration, race briefing and registration were fast upon us and superbly executed with no queues and incredible support. When we arrived at our allotted time to rack on Saturday evening, we were individually taken to our slots, any mechanical help we wanted provided, tyres pumped to specification, bike covered and then led through to drop bike and run bags and then onto body marking. This was done by walking onto a pedestal with a volunteer body marker on each side who quickly 'tattooed' the right number. So after this a quick supper before the normal disturbed pre race night. Actually, for the first time ever before a big race, I slept quite well. Not so Debbie who endured a night of punctures/mechanicals but apparently Shane Warne was involved somehow!
On race morning, a swift breakfast of porridge/muesli washed down with coffee and we were on our way to the start which was only around 1k from our hotel. Final checks of the bikes and kit complete, we made our way down to the beach as first light just started to creep across the sky. Having worked out the direction of the current, we had decided the best place to start was on the right of the beach, Debbie further forward as a strong swimmer and me hovering at the back trying to avoid the inevitable chaos caused by 2000 people all aiming for a single buoy 950m away. Helicopters whirred overhead, crowds cheered and the sun rose over the horizon on what must be the most beautiful Ironman start on the circuit. The klaxon sounded and we were off. The front runners charging into the water with the rest of us following and starting out on our long day. Although the sea was relatively calm, sighting was tough, I think I only saw the buoy on about one out of three times that I looked up.. On the other two attempts, I either saw the swell of the sea or a mass of other swimmers ahead and spread to both left and right. Mindful of the current, I worked hard to try to keep straight which actually meant aiming to the right of the buoy. The swim was 'M' shaped so two left turns and then back to the beach where we ran about 50m before diving/stumbling back into the sea for the second leg. A quick check of my watch showed me I was at the better end of my predicted swim times but I knew Debbie would be way out in front. As we exited the water and ran up the beach, we were met by wetsuit strippers who helped save valuable seconds by grabbing the legs of your wetsuit as you threw yourself on the floor and removing it in one tug. As a slight aside, when I explained this to my 92 year old aunt who had demanded a blow by blow account of the race, she thought we were then all naked on the beach. Explanation on trisuits then followed....
So onto the bikes and the first of two laps in our 112 mile ride. The course was mostly flat or undulating with two moderate climbs of around 1.5/2k each which were ascended on the way out and again on the way back so four times overall. These looked pretty innocuous on the pre race ride but became more challenging on race day. Surfaces were better than Kent (where isn't?) but certainly not perfect and we saw several people puncture. Aid stations were plentiful so we quaffed Gatorade, ate our gels and cycled on. Weather conditions were fantastic - around 20 - 24c with some wind against us on one section but very comfortable. The route was essentially along a dual carriageway and was well marshalled with zero possibility of taking the wrong course (just as well given Debbie's and my record of going wrong in almost everyTT). There was a short section of cobbles on each loop but other than that it was a smooth ride all the way. The Brazilians were not great at lane discipline and on the second lap when people were slowing down, I found a use for my basic Portuguese, screaming 'na esquerda!!' (on your left) loudly to get past people. The draft busters were out in force once they had finished with the pro's and it was actually difficult to avoid being in a drafting position as often there was less than 20m between riders. As there was a 10 minute penalty you had to be very vigilant and I saw several people get busted. Debbie simply stormed the bike and was lying second in our age group at this point. I found the the time disappeared rapidly and suddenly I was back in transition contemplating the small matter of a marathon to be run.
The marathon course in Brazil consists of a 21k loop with 3 nasty hills which I reckon were around 10%+. Although short, the hills certainly sapped any strength that remained in your legs and the advice to walk the steepest parts was good but to my regret, I ignored the advice to run downhill. After this 21k loop, were two mercifully flat 10k loops. This format certainly broke the race up psychologically. It was good to see Debbie several times and despite her nasty injury which by this point was holding her back considerably, she certainly looked better than many others. As dusk fell, I started to tire but by this time I was on the last 10k so was sure I could make it home. After 36k, I suddenly started to fade dramatically and when we passed our hotel we were both very tempted to go in for a shower and cup of tea! The last few kilometres seemed to take forever but suddenly the race village with lights and music loomed at last and we both safely crossed the finish line to take 3rd and 4th places. It took us a while to meet up as I opted for the post race massage (I just wanted somewhere to lie down) and Debbie went to the food tent. Eventually we were reunited in the Endurance Sports Hospitality House for more food. This was quite lucky as having asked a few people the way to the hospitality house, they thought I wanted to go to the hospital and nearly called me an ambulance.
Finally, we could enjoy the red wine, a toasted sandwich and over the next week, the caipirinhas.
This is a fantastic race with perfect weather conditions, superb organisation and a great atmosphere. We would both heartily recommend it as long as you don't mind a serious case of bike envy and are prepared to learn a few basic Portuguese commands.
All racked and ready for morning