One thing I learned during my recent journey into endurance sports is that triathletes are an odd bunch. I don’t know if I’ve met a group of people more obsessed with their sport than the #swimbikerun crowd.
So as you can imagine, with the triathlon season almost entirely cancelled worldwide, the triathlon community has been going a little crazy.
As a solution Ironman started hosting virtual races (VR’s) through their newly launched Ironman Virtual Club. Even the pro season is now being run virtually for world ranking points. It’s pretty wild that technology now allows triathlon, one of the most outdoor sports ever, to be run remotely with athletes in quarantine!
The way these races work is you register for the event, and then you connect your Garmin or Fitbit GPS to the Ironman Virtual Club while you complete your race (I use the Garmin Forerunner 935). You can also connect a treadmill or bike trainer with an approved distance meter. Your info feeds into the Ironman Virtual Club as you complete the event with your recorded time. Then once you’ve finished, you get ranked on the leaderboard and get a little virtual badge on your profile.
VR1 to VR4 were shorter triathlons, but I got the email last Monday saying VR5 was happening that weekend and it was going to be a half Ironman. I hadn’t been in training since racing at Ironman NZ, which was nearly two months ago. This seemed like the perfect challenge to test if I still had any life in these legs!
While a half Ironman usually involves a 1.9km swim, most people don’t have access to pools during Covid-19. To solve this they replaced with swim in the VR’s to short runs, so the course for Ironman VR5 was set as:
- 5km run
- 90km bike
- 21km run
The other cool thing about the VR races is they’re hosted over an entire weekend. So you have almost three days to finish it, and can do the events in any order you want. You can do it all in one day, or spread it over the whole weekend. Not only does that make it easier, but also means there’s no excuses for scheduling etc! You can race in the middle of the night if you want.
The race window is based on GMT, but the official window for New Zealand was Saturday 7:00 am until Monday 11:59 am.
Even though I only had four days to prepare, even a small amount of preparation was important. I knew jumping straight into half Ironman distances after two months off would be a shock to the legs that wouldn’t be fun or healthy.
On Tuesday, I laced up for a 5km run. It actually felt great and I finished comfortably with a comfortable pace. That was a confidence boost and I started worrying less about the half marathon, which I’d been having some doubts about.
On Wednesday, I got on my bike trainer for an indoor ride.
At the time I didn’t know I could track distance on my trainer, so I just measured by time. I did an hour, which is usually around 25km for me on the road.
My legs were quite achy after that, so I decided Thursday and Friday would be for resting and stretching before race weekend started on Saturday morning.
The weather forecast for the weekend was awful. Saturday was supposed to be cloudy (but dry) all day, but then Sunday and Monday were both stormy with heavy rain all day. That meant I needed to get everything done on Saturday, or at least the half marathon and the bike ride. Otherwise, I’d be spending many hours running and riding in the rain on Sunday and Monday.
When I went to bed Friday night, my plan for the race was as follows:
Saturday morning I would head to the velodrome and do the 90km ride, expecting it to take around ~3.5 hours.
Then I would rest for an hour or two, have some food, and then do the 21km run in the evening. I expected that to take ~2 hours.
Then on Sunday I would rest, and on Monday morning I would do the 5km run. Since that should only take ~30 minutes, doing it in the rain would be fine.
Well, as usual the Auckland met service got the weather forecast COMPLETELY WRONG, and Saturday wasn’t clear at all. When I woke up at midday, it was already raining.
By 2pm it hadn’t cleared up, it was raining even harder.
By around 3pm it had slowed down to a drizzle, and I guessed that was probably the best it was going to get all weekend and I should get one of the long events out of the way.
It still looked like it could start pouring again any second, and I generally don’t like cycling in the rain since it’s pretty dangerous. Especially since Auckland drivers seem to love driving as close as humanly possible to cyclists like they’re trying to smell us or something. So I decided to do the half marathon.
It’s been a long time since I’ve run 20 km – in fact the last time I ran that far was during the Ironman back on March 7th, exactly 8 weeks ago. Since then I’ve only done a few runs, the longest being ~7km.
The course I mapped out was simply four laps of a 5km loop near my house, with a few extra side streets to make up the additional 1km to get to 21km.
Unfortunately, things were already feeling hairy at the 3km mark, and I was breathing heavy and feeling my knees start to soften. Luckily I’ve been there before, and just focused on finding a steady pace and knocking off that first lap. Once I settled into the run, the first two laps went by slowly but without too much suffering. I knew I wouldn’t be setting any PB’s that day so I just slowed it down and tried not to beat my legs up too much.
Rain finally started coming down on the third lap, but it wasn’t too heavy and didn’t bother me. What did bother me was my feet, which always seem to get jacked up around the 12-15 km mark with sore bones and blisters. That worsened during my fourth lap, and I had flashbacks of those horrible times during the tail-end of my marathons, when your feet are crying for mercy and you don’t want to run another step. Of course this run wasn’t nearly as bad, and also those memories are a good reminder you’ve been through way worse and should be just fine if you keep your head right.
I actually hit 21 km a few streets early and walked the rest of the way home. Rain was a little heavier by then, but I had a huge smile on my face, happy that I could still survive those long runs after a few months off.
I woke up around midday and already the rains and winds were raging. There was no way I could cycle 90km in that weather, partly because it’s pretty dangerous, but mostly because I just didn’t want to.
At this stage I contemplated not completing the race. My only option was to do the ride indoors but my bike trainer couldn’t measure distance so wasn’t approved for the VR. At least that’s what I thought, since I didn’t fork out the big bucks for one of those really fancy trainers.
Luckily I decided to double check the manual and found that my trainer could measure distance when I connected it to a Garmin device via something called ANT+ (never heard of it before). Just so happens my running watch is a Garmin with ANT+!
Once I got it hooked up and working, I was pretty amped to be able to finish the race and got riding straight away. I usually ride around 25km/hr so I expected 90km to take me around 3:30 or a little more. I set my laptop up in my lounge with a podcast, stashed some cookies, fruit, gels and drinks on a refreshment table and away we went.
For some reason, riding on a trainer is so much harder than riding on the road.
I think partly because there are no downhills to coast on, but it also feels like it records less pace and distance than what it would be on an actual road ride. I did a lot of long rides for Ironman prep and usually anything under 100km wasn’t too painful. But this ride was a killer.
By 20km I was already soaked in sweat and had finished most of my snacks, around 50km my legs were really giving out, I seriously considered stopping to rest for a few hours.
Instead I just dropped down a few gears and did some granny peddling and it all blurred together after that into a slow and painful slog. The last 10km were particularly horrid.
Part of it would’ve been because my endurance has waned over the last couple of months, and also the long run the day before left my legs a little woozy. Still I didn’t expect it to be that tough.
When I finally finished and took some time to eat and rest, I noticed once again how amazing our weather service is. It was supposed to be heavy storms throughout the evening and night, but when I finished the ride at 8pm, the rain had gone completely and the skies were pretty clear.
Since the VR5 deadline was at lunchtime the next day, I figured now was my chance to get the 5km run done and wrap the challenge up. Otherwise, I’d need to wake up early and do it the following morning, and the forecast was again for heavy storms (which meant it would probably be bright and sunny, but whatever).
I laced up and headed out onto the streets.
Sun had gone down long ago, but I was still warm after that killer ride. Streets were empty too which was nice. Since it was only 5km I just treated it like a warm down run and kept the pace extra slow. Still struggled a little on the last 2km, but once I got home it felt so good.
It’s been a while since I’ve had to push myself that hard, and the sore knees and feet walking up the stairs afterwards was a nice reminder of what training camp used to be like.
Can’t say I miss it, but I did miss that feeling of collapsing into bed at night and thinking yeah, I did that!
These races have actually been a huge success and people have been discussing them non stop in the triathlon FB groups. If you’re planning on doing a triathlon, half Ironman, Ironman, these are the perfect races for training! You can sign up for free at Ironman Virtual Club.
For this particuar race, 14,894 athletes registered for the race, and 8,187 finished:
My final time was 6:40:50, which placed me 6,809 out of 8,187:
I don’t even want to think about how much harder it would’ve been to place in the top half, especially with some of the stuff I’ve seen on Facebook. Ironman is full of lunatics 😂
Also I’m going to say my real result was 6,809 out of 14,894 – and with that, I’m in the top half!
No medals for this race either, but we do get a badge, and that’s good enough for me.
Once again, will be taking a little break from biking and running for a while.
What should Quarantine Challenge #6 be? Definitely something easier on the legs 😉