Julia’s Ironman Barcelona Race Report – Part II

Today we continue Julia’s epic race report. Here’s Part I if you missed it!

Ironman Barcelona is not actually in the city of Barcelona but rather a beachside resort town thirty miles east called Calella.

Our hotel in Calella was smack in front of the finish line with a view of the beach. During lunch at a local restaurant I decided that Paella would be my staple meal for the following days. With rice, fish and meat as the main ingredients it was the perfect pre-race carbohydrate/protein combination.

After lunch we browsed the Ironman expo (okay, we is me…) and checked out the swim course. The scenery was picturesque with the sea was a gorgeous turquoise blue. I thought to myself, “Ooooh, perfect for swimming!”

Caella beach

Then I woke up the next morning and everything had changed. The sky had that ominous grey colour like anything could happen. It was windy and the sea was agitated. Piero and I went to the beach to watch some crazy Ironman participants swimming. They bobbed up and down on waves which seemed a meter in height. I got seasick just looking at them.

Athletes on the beach

I checked in my bike and transition bags. The setup was well organised and again, right on the beach. I put a plastic cover over my bike to protect it from the approaching storm front. Nearby a group of Danish athletes looking out at the water.

“Excuse me, can I ask a question? If the water is this agitated tomorrow do you think they’ll have us do the swim?”

A sweet young blonde guy answered for the group. “I think that absolutely yes, they’ll make us swim even with this water.”

“I guess I just have to suck it up…”

“I think so.”

Fantastic.

I tried not to worry too much because there was nothing that I could do. Piero assured me the waters would be calmer because the wind was dying down. Nature had the entire night to fix things and give us a better swim course. Whatever happened, it was totally out of my hands.

Barcelona swim

I slept really well, so unlike me before a race. I got ready and headed out with Piero to the start. I knew it would be a long day so we let Evan sleep. Olivia and her boyfriend Federico would be on the beach right before the race began.

As the sun rose the beach was already filled with athletes dressed in neoprene. Some were warming up in the water, something I chose not to do. The water was still churning with long waves coming onto the shore. I put on my wetsuit, swim cap and goggles. I made sure I had my earplugs then headed to the start.

bcn_swim_04

This year Ironman Barcelona had a self-seeded start line and this worked brilliantly. They had a serpentine line and signs with swim times under them. I lined up under the 1:25:00 sign. I chatted with a woman from Finland who was racing her first Ironman. They had relaxing music over the speakers. As I was chatting away with my temporary friend I heard them announce that it was my birthday and wished me a happy birthday! I jumped up and down “that’s me!” and people around me started clapping.

Now it was time to move forward.

We looked like lemmings slowly diving into the water. It was a slow procession with just dozens of athletes in at a time. I know a lot of faster sub-sixty minute athletes didn’t like this system, but I loved it. So much better than two thousand athletes trying to fight for the same water space.

Photo courtesy of Matteo Torre
Photo courtesy of Matteo Torre

The water was warm but navigating the first waves required concentration. I made it easily to the first buoy and then turned west and started counting. The buoys were marked every 500 metres and it felt easy in that first 1,450 meter section. It actually was easy because the current was helping.

At the turn we headed out to sea 100 meters more then left again to swim straight east for 1750 metres. Now we had the current and waves coming up against us and I had to put my head in the game.

I started to feel queasy and tried to talk myself into some new age craziness of flowing with the water and being one with nature. It wasn’t working.

I stopped to force the air out of my stomach while keeping an eye on the next buoy at 2,500 metres. I was almost at 3,000 metres when a safety boat passed by and unloaded diesel exhaust fumes. That’s where I lost it.

I signalled for one the the kayaks to come near me, I held on to the bow and vomited into the sea water. I knew I’d be fine but I waited a few minutes until I calmed down. I apologised to the kayak lady, thanked her and then swam on.

As I turned at the 3000 metre buoy I could see the shore 300 metres away, looking both near and far away. It took me another ten minutes to reach shore with the waves pushing and pulling us back and forth.

When my feet touched the sand they sank into the ground. One of the helpers had to pull me up and out. I scrambled onto the beach and squinted at my watch through my goggles as I crossed the timing mat: 1:40:26.

When I was in the hospital and planning how to train I stumbled upon a blog entry written by Sharon McNary. Sharon had broken her elbow two months before racing Kona. I wrote her an email and she’d answered, “If you can get through the swim, you’ll probably be alright for the other two legs.”

Thanks to Sharon I felt confident and ready to get on the bike.

  1. Tessa
    "I started to feel queasy and tried to talk myself into some new age craziness of flowing with the water and being one with nature. It wasn’t working." Thank you for my 'hot tea snort' ;) But seriously. Amazing stuff Julia (as always).
    • Julia Jones
      You're welcome - haha!
  2. frances
    Oh hey, don't mind me, just crying in the airport. And there are still two more legs to go... The suspense!
  3. Julia Jones
    Writing, writing!
  4. helen
    Never mind apologising to the woman on the kayak safely above the water .... what about the poor souls after you swimming through your little pool of puke?! Actually I imagine there's all sorts floating around in the water by the time a couple of thousand people have thrashed about in it for an hour and a half, best not to think about it! Every now and again while I'm swimming in a pool with my goggles in it, I think I can spy snot strings floating in the water and just thinking about it makes me gag! Amazing resilience to get through such a challenging first leg. Well done you!! <3
    • Julia Jones
      There's a lot of space in water...I'm pretty sure everybody else was fine ;-)
  5. Maura
    Snot and sweat in pools is what will prevent me from ever being a triathlete but I sure am enjoying the experience via you Julia. Looking forward to the next installment.
  6. Sarah Sweeny
    Oh my goodness, so glad you made it through that swim! What a change in the ocean from the day you arrived. Sorry it made you puke!
    • Julia Jones
      I can't even do somersaults in the pool without feeling queasy :-(