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IM Barcelona 2023 Race Report

Created: Friday, 12 January 2024

After racing in Italy and Portugal, it was time for another epic destination for my 10th Ironman race! After making a list of exciting possibilities, the only reasonable airfare option led me to IM Barcelona! This course looked ideal, with a single loop for the swim, and a flat bike and run. My wife and I flew out on the Wednesday before the Sunday race, landing on Thursday.

The check-in was smooth. I was now used to the European ways of racing. QR codes on my wrist, timing chip pickup during the bike check-in, and needing to remember to wear my bib during the bike leg. But other rules still caught me by surprise, like needing to have my helmet buckled and bib on my waist before I’m permitted to check in my bike. Everything was in English, so there were no language issues.

The practice swim in the Mediterranean Sea felt great. The water was definitely choppy, with a current. It was chilly at first, then became comfortable inside the wetsuit. So I felt confident with the swim. I assembled my bike, and had no issues this time. My last race in Hawaii left me with a bent wheel after I unpacked it. The practice bike rides left gave me confidence as well. The streets were busy with cars and pedestrians, so I kept the rides short and safe. My Nike Alphaflys were ready to fly. Time to race!!!

Swim – 2.4 miles

The swim didn’t start until 8:30. We had to wait until the 70.3 racers began at 7:30. Then they adjusted the swim buoys for the full IM racers. I could only see the first turn buoy from the shore. The course was swim out, then turn right with the current, then U-turn back a long ways against the current. Another U-turn, then swim to the shore to exit. It started to get very warm while waiting to swim. Despite waiting as long as I could before putting on my wetsuit, it clear that everyone was starting to overheat. The sweat certainly didn’t help keep my swim cap on securely. It was a very unique swim start.

The viewing stands were built right on the beach for the VIP folks with a covered tunnel through the middle of it. The swimmers entered the starting line through the tunnel, which was lined with the IM signature poster, and a big sign that said, “Your Dream Starts Here”. You couldn’t help be feel all the race excitement. 5 racers started every 3 seconds. The beach had a steep dropoff, so as soon as you enter the water, it was time to start swimming. I started off strong, and I definitely felt the current help me out. I looked at my watch, I was swimming at a 1:30/100 yd pace. Very fast for me in open water. After making the first turn, I saw no signs of the buoys that we were supposed to be sighting on. So, I followed the swimmers in front of me.

Halfway through that leg, I saw a jet skier yelling something in Spanish, and pointing to my right. It took me a moment to realize that we were all heading in the wrong direction. Right from the beginning, I’m swimming an extra distance. After making the correction, I’m looking for a big red turn buoy. That’s what is typical, and that’s what is in the Athlete Guide. But what I saw was a big yellow buoy. Hmmm??? I saw a swimmer go right across the front of me! Oh! That was the turn buoy!! I went back and made the U-turn. At this point, the current was very strong, and I had to fight through it. It was literally a fight! I felt the push back, instead of me gliding forward. I checked my watch, and my pace had dropped to over 3:00/100 yd. I kept pushing, swimming directly into the sun.

The waves were crashing way above my sight line. Many times I looked to sight above the waves and I just get a mouth full of salt water, and confusion on if I was targeting a buoy or a lifeguard on a surfboard. The ocean was very clear, I could see everything on the ocean floor. I saw a few bright green objects. After several of them, I noticed they were the green swim race caps! I was thinking, how crazy so many lost their swim cap. Soon, the waves were hitting me hard enough to dislodge both of the swim caps I had on! The long hair cap was no longer secure, and I felt my goggles loosen on my face. I stopped a couple of times to pull the caps back onto my head. After a few more big waves hit me, the caps came off, but my goggles stayed on. It seemed like forever, but I eventually got to another big yellow buoy. I made sure that it was the turn buoy, and made the final U-turn. After this last turn, I was determined to make up time with the current, and pushed even harder.

The waves were taller, and I lost sight of the buoys again. I knew the shoreline should be to my right, so I just kept on swimming. Still no sign of the buoy, eventually a lifeguard came and corrected me to go to my left. Once I did, I rejoined some other swimmers. I made the final turn towards the shore, and had to be corrected again to head towards the swim exit. This was my worst swim, mainly due to problems sighting, swimming off course, stopping to fix my swim cap, and swimming against a strong current. The cutoff is 2 hours, 10 minutes. I finished in 2 hours, 4 minutes. I found out later, there were a large number of athletes that did not finish the swim in time in both the 70.3 and full distance races.

Time: 2:04:46

Rank: 239 (out of 244 finishers, lots of DNFs)

T1

I was pretty beat up when I got out the water. When I stood up, I fell right back down, and the swimmer behind me actually caught me! I stood up again, and was still unsteady. The photographer captured a volunteer coming to help steady myself. The dizziness went away quickly, and I jogged out of the water hoping I would not get a penalty for losing my cap in the water. The fresh water shower was nice! I quickly rinsed the salt water off. I was hoping for a water station, but there was not one, or I missed it. All that salt water was still in my mouth. I grabbed my bike bag, put my swim gear in it, and put on my bib belt, bike helmet and shoes. It was easy to find my bike, as most all of the bikes were gone. I intentionally never looked at my watch to see what my swim time was. I was pretty disappointed. Time to ride.

Time: 6:40

Bike: 112 miles

(Actually 114)

As soon as I got on the bike, I was rolling pretty fast. Averaging about 23 mph, but focused on my power output instead of my speed. It’s a 3 loop course. Surprisingly, folks were already on their second loop as I was starting my first! To make it worse, they were all in large peloton packs. The drafts were rolling much faster than I could ever go biking solo. I was so far behind, I no longer had a racing mentality, and did not join the numerous packs. They were all breaking the rules anyway. I was expecting the course to be flat, but it definitely was not. Plenty of rolling hills. Each lap was about 40 miles. The first lap, I averaged 20 mph with the hills. I felt great, even though I was getting smoked by the pack riders. There was a section that got extremely narrow due to road construction. So narrow, that the cyclists had to go single file, and were only feet away from oncoming cyclists! Not even enough room to place cones to separate us. Very dangerous section.

On the second loop, the wind was picking up, so I had to fight a headwind for a long stretch. I was feeling strong, but demotivated. I figure I’ll just enjoy the ride, since I clearly was not “racing” out there. This gave me the chance to enjoy the Spanish scenery. As I was enjoying the beautiful view of beach and ocean, I noticed it was a fully nude beach! Well, that was a nice distraction. On the third loop, the course really thinned out, and the temperature rose up to the mid 80s. I also realized that I didn’t swap my training tires and install my faster and lighter race tires. Ugh!! Today was just not my day. The wind made it harder to keep up my target power output. I counted down the 112 miles, I was sooo ready to get off the bike. Final stretch was through the city streets to return to the transition area. When I reached the 112 mile mark. I noticed that I’m not even close to T2 yet. Ugh! More frustration. How long is this 112 mile bike ride? It ended up being 114 miles.

Time: 6:29:42
Rank: 227
Pace: 17.32 mph

T2

I took my shoes off while I was on bike, so I ran barefoot. That was a smart decision, because it was a long transition on the AstroTurf and carpeting. Other cyclists stopped, and took their bike shoes off after they started running because it was hard to keep their footing. I grabbed my run bag, and put on my run gear. It took me a little longer to bend over to put on my run socks than I planned, but my body was pretty tight from the long bike ride. Shoes, visor, cap, I was ready to run.

Time: 10:33

Run – 26.2 miles

In my last several Ironman races, the run leg is where my body started breaking down. Usually due to my chronic back issues. I was happy to run without my back pain!! The back stretching exercises worked. It’s a 3 loop course, the sun was setting, and temperature was dropping to a more comfortable level. The crowd support was amazing throughout the course. The cheers in all different languages provided a lot of motivation. I saw my wife cheering twice on each loop, which also a big boost. I was surprised to find out just about the entire run was on a dirt road.

The first loop I averaged 10:30/mile. At the end of the first loop, I experienced the craziest of turn arounds!! Many races have loops that are very close to the finish line, but this is the only race where the loop was adjacent to the red carpet finish corral. Literally, we took 3 trips down the red carpet alongside with the finishers. The VIP grandstands and all the finish line hoopla cheered on each racer 4 times! I tried to use that as motivation to get to the finish.

The sun set over the horizon on the second loop, and I could feel the fatigue coming in. I still felt strong. My pace rose to 11:30 though. On the third loop, the struggle became real. I decided to enjoy the rest of the race day, instead of pushing my body to its limit. I had conversations with the English speaking runners. There was plenty, as most of the folks I spoke to were from the UK. I never walked outside of the water station.

After 3 loops of the dirt road, it was time for me to enjoy the finish line! I thought the grandstands would be empty by the time I made the trip down, but it was packed. The music was loud. The two announcers alternated depending on if the racer was English or Spanish speaking. The excitement was worth everything I endured. I forgot all about my swim, it was time to celebrate. The announcer said what I was looking to hear, “Derrick Britton, from the United States, You Are An Ironman!!!”

Time: 5:37:40
Rank: 210
Pace: 12:53 min/mile
Overall: Time: 14:29:21
Rank: 210/244
AG, 1476/1690
Male, 1666/1940 OA

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