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Snowdonia Walk & Scramble

Owen's Iron Man

Aug 04, 2011  |  Category: Technical Articles  |  Print  |  Back to News

Chalange Roth 2011

 Training Comp The Slate Man, North Wales

Training in the hills of North Wales

Running / hobeling with a dodgy back.

Swim Finish on the Iron Man

Trying to keep a cool head on the cycle, Iron Man

Dylan kicking my ass on the race

Still running

Dylan showing the pain at 38km


I like to say my brother talked me into it, but I was never going to need much of a push to do a triathlon. Getting started on an Iron Man however, was defiantly his doing. shoving me in at the deep end you might say!
The thing is, I have always considered my self fitter than Dylan. So when he said he had done his first Iron Man in 10hrs 40mins I thought that would be a reasonable target to beat. How wrong I was! My 9 months of training turned out to be a smoothing of an awakening.
It was always going to be difficult to train and work in the hills at the same time. At best I could train on my days off. As these were at best sporadic I took to beasting my self in to the ground by running or cycling as far as I could on these training opportunities. Bad idea. ‘Train smart’ said Dylan. It was easy for him to say. He could build up a progression of short training sessions and rest at work. I would go weeks at a time with out training and then feel the need to compensate. During the course of a winter climbing and ski touring season I learned two things. 1. my body was not coping well with the increased work load. 2. this style of training was an inefficient way to get fit.
The straw that broke my back was a bike to run session shortly after returning from my ski touring season. After 500m slow running I had to limp home clutching my back making feeble attempts to stretch at about 50m intervals. The following weeks were spent unable to stand up strait and in nearly 24-7 pain. This was a major blow to my training plan. This period 2 months before the event was supposed to be my most intense training. I could hardly walk.
Luckily I had little work between seasons and major focus to get back on track. The North Wales Spinal Clinic came highly recommended among climbers and after an initial assessment I was singed up for a 5 week intensive program of spine crunching and core exercises. It turned out to be a far more all encompassing rehabilitation than first thought. Iain the chiropractor, while contorting me in to compromising positions and then jumping on me, seamed to have all the training tips and life style alterations I needed. It soon became clear I needed to change my reckless approach to training. It was a simple prognosis. If I learned to manage my dodgy back by continually strengthening of my core stabilising muscles and working on in-habiting over active large muscle groups. I could train as hard as I liked with little recourse to my crippled state. If I didn’t change my approach I would take a course of perpetual relapse each time further damaging my ship wreak of a spine. Andrea Iain’s partner, in more than one sense, was my strict exercise trainer. Her exercises (for the rest of my life) where to be my answer to a pain free existence, and a body that could cope with the demands of mountain guiding and triathlon training. The only problem was that the Iron Man was in 8 weeks time and I still couldn’t run. The thought of getting tranced by my chubby, city slicker, brother Dylan was fine motivation to take my rehabilitation seriously. I did an hours exercises every day and soon found that I could continue cycling and swimming with out aggravation.

It was several sessions into my rehab that I mentioned to Iain that my triathlon training was for an Iron Man. He almost fell of his chair in disbelief. His advise was to pull out. In his opinion the muscular stabilisation I needed to train for and complete an event like that was far ahead of me. His sound advice was to spend this year stabilising my back and then train up properly and do an Iron Man in good style next year. This was weighty advice from a man responsible for the enhanced performance of international pro sporting personalities across the spectrum of sport.

In true Owen style I decided continue my exercises and training as best I could and put off the decision to bin the Iron Man till later. The idea of dropping out and having wasted all that valuable climbing time training for an event I couldn’t do ryled me to the core and helped me focus on my rehabilitation exercises.

My first run was in competition on the Snowdonia, Slate Man. A local short course triathlon I had earmarked as useful training. I had no idea if I would be able to finish the 11km run. The swim in 9 degree water was a battle and I almost certainly over cooked it on the bike, but to my surprise I completed the run only losing a couple of places. Result! This only made my decision to pull out of the Iron Man harder.

I continued my rehab and exercises with renewed determination slowly adding running sessions. It was a bumpy road and though my back held up there were some relapse back to the pain off before. However I had changed my training mentality. Core stability exercises and swimming, cycling and running training little by little, always making sure I was fit to train again the next day was my new method.

My next realisation came on a training event in South Wales. The 200km Dragon ride was designed to get a much needed long cycle in to the legs and give a chance for Dylan and I to size each other up. It was at about 150km that Dylan gave me the bad news. With over 2 stone more in weight Dylan left me for dust on all the remaining hill climbs of the event. Though we finished together it was quite clear who had the upper hand on the bike. Humm… I started to recalculate the out come of what had become a 2 man race.

My training and rehab period in Wales came to an end with the start of the summer alpine season. My training run down phase came in the shape of a massive traverse of Mont Blanc and a skills training week. All good acclimatization but hardly restful.

The Iron Man was upon us. I met up with the other competitor for Chanlange Roth 2011 a few days before race day. As we checked out the course, tinkered with our bikes and meticulously planed our nutrition for the big day the grandeur of the event began to realise its self. Fit looking people filled the small Bevarian town of Roth. Iron Man Tattoos, waxed legs and compression tights seamed to be the fashion as people milled around buying energy bars and eyeing up the latest £9000 carbon bike.

I have to admit I felt a little out of place. My hairy legs and 10 year old bike that had a small piece of wood I had calved out to keep my airo bars in place gave me a confirmed amateur look. Dylan reassured me. ‘You may not look cool now but you’ll feel shit hot when you’re flying past people on bikes worth 7 and a half grand’.

As nerves began to creep in and I found myself to be the novice, un aware of all sorts of tactics, I started to draw on my brothers experience and positive attitude. Luckly we were numbered up to start in the same swim. This ment we could support each other when our paths crossed and that who ever crossed the finish line first was the winner.

With our race equipments sorted out to the finest detail checked all we had to do was get up and be in our wetsuits by 7.15am. The Gremans had thought of every thing, up lifting music, hundreds of toilets to serve the over hydrated and nervous thousands. The international triathlon heroes all started at 6.30am and then there were waves of 200 starters every 5 minutes until all 4000 plus competitors had got underway. A last slap on the back and a quick thumbs up in the water made me happy to have Dylan in along side me, what ever the out come. The rope came up and it was instantly like being in a washing machine. The first few hundres meters was a fight me hitting the guy in fronts feet and the guy behind hitting mine. After a while I got sick of it and in a quick head up moment spotted a bigger gap on the out side. I sprinted for it and though payed the price being out of breath for a while managed to get into more of a rhythm. The water was 10 degrees warmer than in Wales and soon I settled in to my stroke. I had swum 3.2km in Llyn Padarn back home a few times thinking I was close to the mark. It was only once I got to the race that I realised that the distance was 3.8km. Oh well better get on with it. In the massive shipping canal we swam up round a bridge stantion back round another and to the finnish. I staggered out and ran to pick up by bike kit. To my astonishment by Dylans bag was still there! I was first out of the water. Game On! In transition I got my self changed and still wet ran through to get on the bike. I spotted Dylan, slaped him on the back shouting come on big man!  I jumped on my bike and I can’t manage to control my speed. I’m feeling fantastic and my legs want to go faster. I try and keep my heart rate below 160 bpm but fail to for most of the first lap. Depressingly it’s not long before I hear ‘Hows it going O’ from behind me. ‘Oh Man!’ Dylan was looking strong. I brefly though about keeping up with him. Luckily sense prevailed and as he stormed passed with is horse sized heart pumping blood at 130 bpm I hung back.  As time went on I started to see the same competitors again and again. I chatted a bit but rarely got much of a response, saving every breath I though, ‘better keep your head down’. On the second lap I found it easier to keep my heart rate down, not surprising after 90km. The crowds of spectators lifted the sprits making you feel like a tour du france rider with the music thumping and people punching the air in front of you. In the last 40km of the ride my quods started to ache continusly and I was starting to have difficulty getting energy bars down. Fatigue started to let dought creep in, would my back hold out for the run. Dylan was probably off and running I would never catch him.

In transition I handed over my bike and took the time to change in to my Adidas running shorts and top. I wolfed down a banana pulled on my running shoes and got started. I knew to keep it slow to start with and was happily surprised that my quods were not hearting. After 8km I realised that my slow start was going stay slow. I got into a pace that felt manageable and just stuck to it. I just though run to 20km and if you blow up then you will have had a good try! On a there and back section I passed Dylan coming the other way. Looking at the markers I worked out that he was 6km in front of me. At this stage of fatigue seeing Dylan had absolutely no affect on me. There came a point where I was so ingrained to the pace that even slowing to grab water and bananas (the only things that would go down the hole with out making an attempt to come out again) felt wrong. I was a one pace man. Like it or knot this was my speed.  I just kept running slowly and more often than knot people ran passed me. At 20km I adjusted my sights for the 30km mark if I bonked out then I could walk the 12km to the finish line! ‘Just keep running’. At 30km I saw Dylan again this time only 1 km in front. But again I could not run any faster. At this point in the run my sprits lifted as now I was starting to pass people who were walking and looking ready to puke. I stuck to my pace and searched for Dylan’s black running top in front of me. At 40km there was no way I was gona walk across the finish line. But still no sight of Dylan. As the finish drew closer the crowds became thicker shouting and waving me on. Water soaked sponges essential to cool the aching body never far from hand. I missed the 41km marker and my heart pumped in my remaining energy as I passed the 42km mark. 200m and it was in the bag. The music grew louder and the banners and crowds denser, and then I was on the red carpet, hands in the air I crossed the finish line. Dylan stood there hand out stretched and a beaming grin on hit face. I felt nothing but elation. My aching body shaking beneath me. A protein drink quickly followed by a massage brought me back to a functioning state.   That night at dinner with Dylan and Mum and Dad It was hard to eat. It turned out that Dylan had been 20mins faster on the bike and then blown up on the run and had to walk a load of it. I came in 6 mins behind him in a total time of 11hrs 26mins.

2 days later I was back to work in the mountains of the Alps. Keeping my fingers crossed that my back pain wasn’t going to make a revenge attack. So far though it only hurts when I’m out for over 10hrs in the mountain. Once again I haven’t got time to train and though I enjoyed the triathlon, when time is on my side I’ll be re addressing the balance of climbing in my spare time. With the odd swim, bike and run thrown in for good measure.

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