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Coaches Blog

IRONMAN Lanzarote - Coach's Race Review

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

The island of Lanzarote lies about 135 miles off of the Moroccan coast. On the third weekend in May, the island hosts one of the toughest Ironman races on the planet. All Ironman races are tough, but Lanzarote features a few things you don't get on other race courses. They are lava fields, an extremely challenging bike course, extreme winds, ridiculous UV exposure, and unlimited bragging rights for getting off the bike in one piece (though this last one might be said of all iron-distance races).


As a coach, I love traveling to see athletes race. In May 2022, I traveled to Lanzarote to coach and watch a Team MPI athlete race at Ironman Lanzarote. The race was a bucket-list race for the athlete I work for - he'd been eyeing it for a few years, but COVID delayed his attempt.


The terrain in Lanzarote was either uphill or downhill. There was not a flat spot on that island. And the hill grades were super steep. I'm from Colorado, and I'll tell you, I was shocked by how steep these hills were. We stayed a mile from town, so we had a lot of up and down (I love it - I live in pancake-flat Florida now). The people in Lanzarote were fantastic, accommodating, and helpful to the athletes. Since only one of us was racing, we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing, scuba diving, open water swimming, wine tasting, and touring in the days before and after the race.


The course was as follows:

  • Swim: One loop in the ocean - wetsuit legal

  • Bike: One loop with 7,837 feet of climbing

  • Run: Three laps through town - one long lap and two short laps

The swim and run courses were spectator-friendly. You could walk down to the beach to see the athletes entering and exiting the water. The bike course was a closed course, so I chose to stay near transition rather than try to find a place to observe the athlete on the bike (I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get back to transition to see the athlete in T2). The run course is through town, and I saw the athlete six times during their run.

What makes Lanzarote really stand out is the bike course and its associated terrain. The island is a volcano - there are lava fields everywhere, similar to what you'd see in Kona. The wind is constant and comes at you from every direction - the athlete reported there were very few places where they had wind assistance on the bike - meaning tailwinds were hard to find! Roads are narrow in Lanzarote, and the athlete reported that there were instances where they were descending into hairpin turns and were passed ('divebombed' was the word used) by nearly out-of-control cyclists on the descents.


The day after the race, we drove the bike course. It was beautiful! The climbs were breathtaking, and I was impressed by the athlete's ability to climb efficiently throughout the course. What I noticed most was that there would be huge climbs followed by some descents but then right back to more steep climbing. Within the first 37 miles, there is a 1,000-foot climb followed by a 1,065-foot climb.


The bike continues with other climbs - nearly 500 feet, 950 feet, and a 780-foot climb, to name a few. The ride ends on a downhill for the last six miles-ish. I was on the bike course, less than a half-mile from the dismount line, when the 'sweep' vehicles were coming into town - if you were able to stay in front of the sweep vehicles and were ahead of your 11:30 mark of your race, you could continue. That's right - the bike cutoff is longer than other Ironman races.


To make conditions even more difficult - as if the wind and hills weren't enough - the day was warm, but the UV Index was extremely high, so athletes and spectators were 'cooking' on the course.


Ironman Lanzarote distributes special needs bags differently than other races I've attended. The bike special needs bags were the usual bags - the athlete could put whatever they wanted into them. However, the special needs for the run was a bottle ONLY. No bags allowed. Athletes were allowed to turn in a bottle, and they could attach extra electrolyte to it or maybe stuff it with a pair of socks or food if they thought they'd need it. They affixed a sticker with the athlete's race number to the bottom of the bottle.


This plan certainly consolidates the special needs areas, but it turned out to be a disaster for the Team MPI athlete as someone took their bottle. Their additional salt and electrolyte drink was gone, and there were no salty foods on the run course. Luckily, the athlete had some salt remaining from the bike and could use that, but it wasn't enough.


As I've mentioned before, the run is through town. It's on a path that's on a sidewalk, so spectators walked on and off the race course. Additionally, as an international race, athletes want to run on different sides of the path, depending on where they live in the world. The path of travel out and back wasn't marked, so there were literally athletes and spectators bobbing and weaving through the run course.


So, after all this, is Ironman Lanzarote on your bucket list? If yes, here are some considerations on how to handle the training (or better yet, call me!):

  • The swim training is no different than for any other Ironman race. It's in the ocean, and the water temperature is about 68 degrees. The tricky part is that open water swimming isn't available for most North American athletes until May, so there may be limited opportunities to do open water swims, wear a wetsuit, practice sighting, or swim in a crowd. To simulate race day, the athlete swam in the pool with the wetsuit on to get used to it after a long winter without it.

  • The bike training required significantly more planning. Depending on where the athlete lives, they may or may not be able to get in a lot of hill work. This athlete lives in a flat area with heavy traffic, so safety is a concern. We used Zwift to simulate climbing on the trainer, then supplemented with heavy strength training.

  • Strength training needs to be consistent and heavy - primarily lower body but don't ignore the upper body and core. The focus was always on lifting with excellent form. Deadlifts, lunges, squats, and plyometric (jump!) training were all included. Most lifts were near max effort, so reps were low, generally in the 1-6 range. The goal was to increase overall power and develop the strength to successfully climb the hills in Lanzarote.

  • Run training required two significant components, as it does for any iron-distance race. The first is getting the athlete durable enough to run a marathon, but then to be able to run a marathon AFTER the challenging Lanzarote bike course required extra consideration. First, we had to take the bike elevation gain into account, then work on BRICKs so that the athlete consistently ran off the bike a few times a week.

As a final note, this was a great day for the Team MPI athlete. I think they handled the course well, finished strong, and checked off a bucket list race. I'm so happy for them!

 

Maria Netherland is a Northwest Florida-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and Youth & Juniors Certified Coach as well as a NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Performance Enhancement Specialist. Coach Maria loves working for athletes of all abilities, military athletes, and new triathletes as they pursue their goals. Maria is a veteran of the US Army and a United States Military Academy at West Point graduate. She can be reached at maria@teammpi.com.

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