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  • Writer's picturefinnfitzgerald2

Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

When I was planning my 2023 season one of the first races that caught my eye was Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote. Billed as 'the toughest 70.3 in the world' the race would give me a good chance to test the legs coming off nearly 4 months of winter training and compare myself to some of the best age-groupers in Europe. It was also a great chance to get some much needed winter sun!

Blasting through the lava fields of the Timanfaya National Parkl. there aren't many places on Earth with terrain like Lanzarote.

After a stressful day of travel on Wednesday we checked into our Airbnb and I set about building the bike up. Despite having to make various bodges to get my TT bike to fit in my bike box it seemed as though it had made it through the journey unscathed. We then had a couple of days to relax, sign on and enjoy the good weather. I kept it pretty easy training wise and only did one run, an open water swim and 1h bike ride to double and triple check that everything on the bike was working as expected.

Race morning rolled around and my customary 4:30am alarm signaled the start of a big day. I got down to breakfast straight away, 1 bowl of porridge and two slices of jam toast. The walk down to transition wasn't a long one but was a good chance to get moving. As with most Ironman branded events, I had racked my bike the night before so it was there waiting for me on race morning. I loaded it up with gels, chews and 1.5l of electrolyte drink before heading over to the start area to put my wetsuit on. I had been sipping on another 500ml of electrolyte drink during while I did all this and had planned to take on another gel before the start but in the commotion it slipped my mind.

The course which we'd be tackling was a tricky one. The bike took us through the iconic lava fields in the Timanfaya National Park over multiple long, draggy climbs before 25km of descending back into Playa Blanca. These would be made more difficult by the forecast of strong wind, a 37kph northerly. As you can see on the course map, this meant lots of head/crosswinds while we were climbing and a big old tailwind on the way back down. On paper the run didn't look too bad but I'll get onto how difficult it really was later

Toughest bike course I've ridden in a 70.3 with tonnes of climbing and savage wind all day.

In fact the only 'easy' part of the course was the swim, a straight out-and-back in warm, salty water. The water was beautiful, so clear you could see the fish swimming beneath you. There was a bit of chop in the lead up to race day but by the time we were lining up under the starting arch conditions were settled.

Ironman now makes the 'rolling start' customary for all of it's events so I lined up with with the sub-35 minute group and was in the water about 5mins after the fastest swimmers. I found my rhythm surprisingly quickly and was actually overtaking people even quite early on. It didn't feel like long before I was at the turn-around point where there was a little bit of argy-bargy but nothing obnoxious. I continued to gain confidence and my last two 500m splits were the strongest of the lot, averaging 1:41/100m and 1:40/100m.

The rolling swim start. I'm 3rd from right trying to make it down the start ramp without slipping.

I finished the swim in a time of 34:04 which gave me an average pace of 1:47/100m. This is a significant improvement on my previous best effort of 36:22 and finally means I can tick off my long standing goal of going sub 35 minutes in a 70.3 swim. What's really encouraging is that I exited the water 345th out of 1190 racers. That means I was near enough the top 20%, something that would have been inconceivable a year ago.

There was a short run up the slipway to get into transition, then a very long run to get to my bike. All 1190 bikes were racked in one long line, which meant transition was more than 500m long! I was lucky that my bike was closer to the exit than the entrance so I could run most of the way without my bike and 'only' had 150m or so to run with it. All in all in took me just over 5 minutes, not bad in comparison to those around me.

I jumped on my bike and was quickly out of Playa Blanca and into the hills.

I took the first climb up to Maciot (4.4km, 4.4%) fairly hard because I was really cold but also because I had come out of the water with a lot of other people and the course felt really busy. I wanted to get rid of them so I could race my own race. I averaged 263w at a speed of 17.4km and took the opportunity to wolf down my first gel and get some fluid on board.

Happy with my effort I made the u-turn at Maciot and begun the descent back into Playa Blanca. The course felt far less busy already and I quickly got up to around 70kph but daren't settle into the TT extensions due to the strength of the wind. I held my nerve and managed to get down without touching the brakes but to be honest it was pretty scary stuff.

Off the descent I began the rolling section out to El Golfo - around 50minutes at 215w averaging a speed of 31.2kph. I rode into the lava fields and tried my best to stay down on the TT extensions but on the faster sections I was once again forced to sit up to wrestle with my handlebars in savage crosswinds. Oh how I regretted bringing an 80mm front wheel...

Next up was the long drag up to Fire Mountain (16.3km, 2.1%). Most of the climb was into a block headwind, which was tough, but at least it wasn't another crosswind. I averaged 230w for 45mins, at an average speed 21.9kph. While this was the last of the climbing, there remained 10km of rolling roads through the lava fields before I could begin the descent into T2. I pushed on, averaging 205w for an average speed of 31.4kph.

More lava field action. If there's one good reason to do 70.3 Lanzarote it's for the race pictures!

From 65km onwards, the climbing was all done and I had a roaring tailwind. I blasted down the decent, barely having to pedal to maintain an average speed of 50kph.

I was able to bring the bike leg home in a time of 2:51:10 meaning my average speed for the whole course was 31.0kph. I averaged 202w for a normalised power of 227w. My intensity factor for the ride, a measurement of normalised power vs threshold power, was 0.76 - which is fairly conservative for a race of this distance. As usual, I had made up quite a few places on the bike, moving from 345th to 251st overall and into the top 30 in my age group.

As I made my way through transition I felt good, but not great. The winds had made for a really stressful ride which took quite a lot out of me even if my normalised power wasn't super high.

I started the run with some power in my legs and went through the first 5k in 21:54 at an average pace of 4:23min/km. I slowed a little over the next few km's but was still able to maintain a pace just below 4:30min/km. I was doing all the usual calculations in my head and worked out that if I could maintain this pace to the finish I would be on track for my goal time of 1h30-1h35.

I was trying my best to get calories in, and even stopped to walk at the aid stations to make sure I picked up the correct isotonic drinks and gels. Unfortunately, there's only so much that you can do once you're on the run and I could feel the power fading from my legs as I headed out around the lighthouse. Looking back, I probably shouldn't have waited to fuel on the run anyway, and could have taken on more calories while I was on the bike. I'd only had about 33g/hr of carbs up to this point (ideally I should have been nearer 60g/hr) and was suffering for it now.

The run course was quite a lot tricker than I had expected. It was deceptively hilly and there were a number of gravel sections, particularly around the lighthouse section. Neither of these were the biggest challenge though...

The biggest challenge was that competitors were not separated from the general public. Playa Blanca is a very busy tourist destination and we were running along the main promenade where people eat, drink and shop. It was cool to have a bit of an atmosphere but there were a number of points where I had to weave in and out of 'traffic'. Add to this that it was an out-and-back course, meaning there were triathletes heading in both directions along the promenade. This made for some pretty stressful moments trying not to impede professional racers running in the other direction. Thor Bendix Madsen (Danish Pro, 3rd place finisher) gave me a big 'GET OUT THE F***IN' WAY' for my troubles!

Running on the gravel loop near around the lighthouse, the run course was a lot trickier than it looked on paper.

Once I passed the 10km mark the sun came out and it really started to heat up. It was still windy at the lighthouse so that helped but once running back along the seafront the sun felt really intense and finding ways to cool down was at the forefront of my mine. At the next couple of aid stations I grabbed some water to throw over my head.

I continued to slow over the second half of the run but it was clear most people were suffering because for everyone that overtook me I seemed to be overtaking someone else. I averaged a fairly pedestrian 5:00min/km over the final 11km but gladly never fully cracked. This gave me a chip time of 1:40:51 for an average pace of 4:46min/km (although I'm pretty sure the course was a little long, so average pace closer to 4:40min/km).

I crossed under the finishing arch in a total time of 5:14:34. Although the run was tough, I had actually gained another 5 places to give me a final position of 246/1190. This was good enough for 30/86 in my age group (25-29). Here are all the splits:

Final splits and finishing position

Lanzarote certainly delivered on it's promise of as being a really tricky race. There are plenty of 70.3s you can blast around without a care in the world but not this one, this required concentration and effort from the minute you were in the water to that final step over the finish line.

Lots of broken bodies at the finishing arch!

I'm really happy with where I'm at fitness wise, and I think this race was strong evidence that I'm on course for a good race at Ironman Hamburg later in the year. I didn't set the world alight with my age group placing, but I'm confident the 70.3 Lanzarote age group field is one of the strongest you will see all season and I'd expect to be more competitive at some of the smaller races I'll do later in the year.

I still have some work to do figuring out this nutrition lark, but I'll get there eventually I'm sure. I'm putting the errors in this race down to some race rustiness, ones I won't make again later in the season. I feel like a bit of a broken record rabbiting on about nutrition but I'm confident there's a lot of potential just waiting to be unleashed when I finally fuel properly. As a first step, I have booked an advanced sweat test with Precision Fuel and Hydration which will show me how much salt I lose in my sweat. This will hopefully mean I can be a lot more confident that I'm mixing my race drinks appropriately so I'm excited to do the test and see the results.

As for what's next, I'm on an easy week right now and I'll get back into full training next week. Ironman Hamburg is only 9 weeks away so my training focus will shift in favour of increased volume and lower intensity. The race is doubling up as the Ironman European Championship so the age-group field should be a strong one and it'll be great opporunity to see some of the pros in action. In fact, Jan Frodeno confirmed in a recent instagram post that Hamburg will be his first full distance race of the year so my number one goal now is to be on the run course at the same time as he is. If I can start my run around the 6h30 mark then with a bit of luck I will have Jan and the other top pros thunder past me on their final lap!

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