Half man, half ironman

Seven years ago I heard someone talking about an Ironman triathlon and thought “me too, me too!“. Far from a fixation, this was more like a “wouldn’t it be cool …” thought at the time for a fat bastard like me. It took me the first 2 years to get acquainted with jogging, swimming and cycling. Then I raced my first olympic distance at London Triathlon 2007, felt horrible, did a few more in London but did not really improve a lot. I ended up running a few half-marathons last year and decided to take on a full marathon and a half-ironman this year.

The 5h 34m finish time in Galway, Ireland was by far my best result of all my sportifs this year and placed me 280th out of the 960 people, who crossed the finish line. For me racing often involves seeing lots of people pass me in the second half of the day (l’Etape, marathons), but it was not the case this time.

The 1.9K swim is the scariest part of the race. It did not help at all arriving the night before in a 30kts thunderstorm and the waves were rolling in from the North Atlantic right into the Galway Bay. But the race start at 6:30am next morning into the sunrise over a calmed down sea was full-on romantic. Imagining how thrilled the other 2000 neoprene-men were gathered in the cold water behind the starting line. The swim itself was really cool, after the usual foot grabbing and anxiety of the first few hundred meters I got into a rhythm and totally enjoyed the sunrise and moving through the chill ocean water.

About 45 minutes later coming to shore we met a supporting crowd and the announcer welcoming “This is Kristo Kaarmann from Estoniaaaaa…“. Swimming long distance makes you dizzy even with the smallest of the waves. It is incredibly hard to walk straight, let alone run straight after a 2K swim in open sea. I guess that’s why they build a massive corridor from the beach to the bike area, otherwise people would just genuinely get lost.

Changing between the swim to bike to run is considered the 4th discipline of the triathlon. People go to great lengths to optimise these. For example, I thought it would be good idea to wear socks to the bike and run. It ended up taking me about 2 minutes trying to put them on to my wet feet, which was just impossible given the heart rate after the swim.

It was a great feeling having survived the swim and launching on the spectacular 90K ride through the Irish countryside. One tries to play by the rules and avoid drafting in the bike leg, but … it ain’t easy if you have that number of competitors on the rather small road, trying to overtake each other. Let’s be honest, drafting did happen.


Personally I was afraid of the run more than the swim. I expected to be totally exhausted and barely able to move my feet by the time we get to the 21km run. It was not the case, I was full of energy, getting a lot of support and attention thanks to my Bert & Ernie Sesame Street jersey. I passed a few people, some others passed me, but I enjoyed it quite a lot and even managed to make a couple of friends during the course.

Ironman is a great money-making brand machine. Couple of days after the event they published the new European Ironman league classification, where one is automatically entered even with the half-ironman results. So I first ended up as 172th of M30-34 in my country league table for GBR. Then I pointed out their mistake that I did not compete for GBR and am never planning to. They changed my country affiliation to Estonia and boom, I ended up in the top spot in the country league, still 1879th in the European league.

If I were now, speaking hypothetically of course, ever thinking of attempting the full Ironman (4K swim, 180K bike, 42.3K marathon) – what would the preparation need to be? The body would need to be in a state that it can run a marathon without making a big deal about it. So I guess a couple of more half-ironmans and a few marathons will be needed.

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You can run, but can you win?

People are generally a bit nuts around the year end holidays, slightly out of touch with reality. It was then, when I boldly set my plans for this year’s sporting events. I must have been high on Christmas pudding as I thought I will be so incredibly organised this coming year and super productive with work, so that besides killing the currency transfers space I will have plenty of quality time to spend on exercising and having days of fun with Kriss.

It might have been reading too many @bfeld posts over the holidays, about how he manages 500 emails per day, runs ultra marathons and does not get a bit stressed.

It does not work like this for normal people.

Just back from my 5th l’Etape du Tour – it was hard. I could just about take the first 25km long hors categorie climb to Col de la Madeleine, but already at the bottom of the second of the four monsters I started having too many existential thoughts. It was on the climb to Col du Glandon, when I noticed a  one-legged cyclist passing me uphill among masses of others. Emotionally in pieces as I was taking the last two climbs in the frying sun, the squeaking from my left crank driving me nuts. The limited amount of blood that made it to my brain was enough to reason, against any other part of my body, that I have done it four times – I shall make it this time too.

Lost the will to live

I reached the top of La Toussuire in 11 hours 6 minutes, 3932nd across the finish line. Although 9 000 cyclists signed up, only 4 400 made it to the finish ahead of the broom wagon. Although it was the hardest course of the last 5 years my two friends finished in the top 400 (~7,5 hours). It was also the very same stage where Estonia’s hopeful young rider Taaramäe dropped off the lead a couple of days later in the Tour.

Looked at the results and listened to my body after the finish. It was not about me being exceptionally weak or the course super hard. It was only about lack of exercise – the climbs and miles I did not do this year. Too many days I spent in the office and many weekends behind my laptop. Don’t get me wrong though – riding a stage of the Tour de France with the huge peloton of enthusiasts across the world is an experience I might be up for even the 6th time.

A similar story unfolded at the beginning of May in Kiev, where I ran my first marathon. It was only a few weeks before the event, when I stumbled on the course elevation profile and worked out that it has 700 meters of climbing involved over the 42km. This almost compares to 1500m climbing of the gruesome Jungfrau mountain marathon, which is a totally different category.

This certainly killed my plans of trying to beat Taavet‘s 3:49 time. Somehow I managed to make it to the finish after 4:35 with some of my Ukrainian friends still supporting me across the finish line. The post race totally consumed and empty feeling in my body was a weird experience.

Now there is just one more physical challenge left in September – the half-ironman in Ireland. The reality has caught up with me – there won’t be any time for serious exercise. I’ll just try to tough it out.

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Sportifs of 2012

One thing with the turn of the year is to plan out different aspects of your life. It is like a Monday morning war room for the week. The jog this morning reminded me that I had not yet booked my sports calendar – the 2012 is going to be a huge year for our foreign payments startup and more importantly need to allocate time to stay fit and sane.

Half Ironman2 Sep Ireland

A few years back when I did not do any sports, I secretly admired ultimate endurance guys. On the second day after moving to London I signed up for the London Triathlon – worlds biggest olympic distance (1.5 swim + 40 bike +10 run ) event. Have competed 4 times in London now with 2:38:00 being my personal best.

SANTA ROSA, CA - JULY 19: Athletes exit the wa...

The olympic distance is a sprint. Last time we started 7am in the Thames docks and were done by 9:30, racing mad except the first 20 minutes of the run where my mind is never on the race but rather how to avoid throwing up. Changing from bike to run is hard for me.

I am not ready yet to compete in a full ironman (3.8 swim + 180 bike + 42 run). I would barely survive the swim and the bike, but there is no chance on earth that I would be able to run a marathon.  Sitting on my butt does not get me closer to this goal, so half it is in 2012.

Preparation: cycling and running as usual, morning 40 min swims once or twice in the open air London Fields Lido. Once the summer kicks in then the ponds in Hampsted Heath are fantastic for open air swims. Todo – sign up for a long-distance swimming competition, e.g. to Isle of Wight.

Etape du TourLa Toussuire 8th Jul 2012

Big thanks to the Deloitte cycling activists, who convinced me in 2008 that riding one stage of the Tour de France with 8000 amateurs is a great thing to do. That stage was Col du Tourmalet, followed by Mont Ventoux, Col du Tourmalet again in 2010 and Alpe d’Huez in 2011. In the first year I got two of my fitter cycling buddies to ride the Etape with me, they loved it and got more of their friends involved in 2009, so that last year we had a group of 15 Estonian amateur cyclists camping out near the start line. Some are really good – Indrek finished 452 of 10 000 competitive cyclistas.

The front of the peloton during stage 12 of th...

It is going to be another mental stage this year, including 3 hors-category climbs and one first category climb over 140km.

Preparation: a training week with buddies in Italy in early April, the annual dragon ride of Wales, Rapha’s Hell of the North semi-cyclocross north of London and weekend outings to south downs near Dorking, Edenbridge, Sevenoaks.

Marathon06 May Kiev

Running is my weakest discipline. I get tired, out of breath and I am slow. In 2011 I did two half-marathons, the Semi de Paris and the Windsor Half. I sucked, clocking 1:45 in Paris and 2:04 in Windsor. I blame my size and weight.

Last year I had huge amount of running inspiration from the book Born to Run and started running with Vibrams, as close to barefoot as you can get on the trashy streets of London. My stride has certainly improved a lot since the last 12 months of no cushioned footwear and there have been no injuries or pains.

Preparation: morning runs twice per week 11km before breakfast along the Regent’s canal and once around Victoria park.

Adventure Racing – 29 Apr, 2-3 Jun, 29 Jul Estonia

Our Estonian forefathers did not emerge from the forests a long time ago, therefore no surprise the entire nation is mad for adventure races, where a team of 3 cross the terrain orienteering on foot, bikes, canoes, etc. We attempted the grueling 36-hour adventure challenge in 2008, but had to step off on the 31st hour due to teammate’s blisters.

This year will try the shorter one-day XDream races and hope to put out the full TransferWise team.

Sailing – undecided

In previous years my Deloitte friends planned out the sailing season nicely with the company regatta, the Industry Sailing Challenge that takes you twice around the Isle of White and races on Cowes Week. Give me a shout if you need crew for your club’s spring/summer series!

Olympic spectating – August

I did get hold of tickets for two events in the London 2012. Gotta see this close up and first hand.


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