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Tue 18th Feb 2020
Elbaman report
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 7th October 2009

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It's Ironman week in triathlon world. With Kona looming large this Saturday, there are also other Ironman and iron-distance events out there. After Ironman Wisconsin yesterday, today we bring you a report from Elbaman (

Ben Abdelnoor joined a group of friends from Ambleside AC to take on this tough iron-distance challenge on the Mediterranean island of Elba a couple of weeks ago. Despite having never swam more than 1.2 miles, saying "I’m not a massive fan of biking and often get bored", and thinking "that a full marathon, particularly on road, would be beyond me", a 12:22 finish time on a tough course would suggest some huge potential for the future. They do make these fell runners tough...

So that was an Ironman? Tough, but that was to be expected. A 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112 miles on the bike (with 7500’ of climbing) and a marathon to finish. Not just tough, but on reflection quite good fun, and certainly one that provided a sense of satisfaction. According to my mates, I’d have won the award for having the biggest grin on my face every time I came past on the bike and run laps…

The Elbaman triathlon takes place on the Mediterranean island of Elba, an hour by ferry off the Tuscany mainland. Six members of Ambleside AC took various planes, trains, buses, ferries and taxis from England to Italy for a week-long holiday and spot of exercise. The weather was perfect; sunshine, clear skies and temperatures in the high 20s every day. Our eccentrically styled holiday villa was 400 yards from a beautiful beach. Restaurants, cafes and ice-cream parlours were in plentiful supply. With the tourist season apparently finished there were no crowds and no queues.

The atmosphere on the morning of the event was just incredible. Here we were on a beautiful Island in the Med with the sun just beginning to rise up over the horizon, spilling an orange glow across the still waters. The sound system is cranked to 10 with euphoric music pumping out, and everywhere there are wet-suited bodies milling around on the sand. At 7 o’clock the siren went and into the water I strolled (not ran, for I had a feeling it was not going to be a day for rushing), along with 250+ others!

I’d only managed a sea swim for the first time the day before the race. I knew that the water would be salty, but it was still a rude awakening as it stung my lips, got in my mouth and occasionally down my throat. By the second lap I felt my skin had absorbed all the salt I could and I felt less uncomfortable. On both laps of the swim I stopped two or three times to adjust my goggles and take in this great spectacle. It was nice to be in such pleasantly warm waters (22 degrees as opposed to 11 in the Lake District) and with such a small field, not to be bashed about by the masses. I was able to relax into my swim and just enjoy myself. Coming out onto the beach after the first lap I spotted my girlfriend and mates and gave them a big wave and smile. I hovered for a few seconds on the sands, again savouring the sights and sounds, and then decided I’d best head back into the water. I managed to do a quick pee as I splashed through the shallow water and entered uncharted territory – I’d only ever swam 1.2 miles up until today!

Having come from a fell running background where everything is low key (a bumbag to keep your kit in, £2 race fee, start running when they say ‘go’) I must say I really lapped up and enjoyed the atmosphere; helicopters circled the swimmers, crowds lined the swim exit and transition route, and music played throughout. I exited the water in around 1 hour 10 minutes, and a grin from ear to ear!

Wrong tent?!In the few triathlons I’ve done the transitions have been manic, rushed affairs, grabbing what you need and dashing off on the bike or run. I’d entered this event with no illusions of grandeur, telling folk back home that I imagined I’d get round in 12 hours-ish, but my main aim would be simply to finish. So both my transitions were sensible and controlled affairs. However, it didn’t stop me from accidentally using the women’s changing tent for my transition! I’m told this is a disqualifiable action, but I think that’s a fabrication. Anyhow, I was in danger of setting a very slow transition because an athletic young lady came into the tent, sat down opposite me and promptly took her top off! I suppose I had been promised some decent entertainment for my 120 euro entry fee…

The bike was 3 laps of the western part of the Island. The only deviation from the main coastal route was an out-and-back climb a few miles into each of the 3 laps. Here you got your only chance to see who was ahead of you. For me it was a case of an opportunity to see who would soon be ahead of me! I couldn't quite believe how fast some of the cyclists rode, overtaking me on the climbs like they were going downhill! None of the climbs needed one to get out of the saddle but, apart from the last 20 minutes of each lap, the route was either going up a climb or going down. I think I read that there was 7500’ of ascent in total on the bike.

I took heed of some sound advice I’d been given the week before the race: take it steady on the bike to save myself for the run. It was hard to be disciplined in this matter, often reminding myself that if I wanted ‘fun on the run’ I’d have to go easy on the bike. I haemorrhaged places on the first lap of the bike but found the ride altogether rather pleasant, with some fantastic coastal scenery to occupy the mind. If I’m honest though, at times I struggled on the bike and thought I couldn’t face doing a second and third lap. Apart from a sub-7hr Fred Witton I’ve not ventured over 80 miles before. I’m not a massive fan of biking and often get bored. Taking seven and a half hours for the 112 mile bike leg probably didn’t help! For laps one and two I was fine in terms of food and drink. For each lap I took on board 1.5 litres of electrolyte and carbohydrate drinks, two energy bars and various morsels and water handed out at each station. But the final hour of the bike was tough. I couldn’t face eating any food but I was hungry. I didn’t like the taste of the current electrolyte drink I had and I felt like I was near the back as there were so few bikes on the course. I was wrong about this last point, but the relay Ironman cyclists and the 70.3 (half Ironman) cyclists, who’d started at similar times, had nearly all finished the bike leg. And of course, with it being Italy, all the supporters and it seemed some of the staff had gone off for their siesta! It was on this lap that I really noticed how hot it was, I’d guess somewhere close to 30 degrees. I’d also been suffering with a painful soreness under my right forefoot. I don’t wear socks when cycling and thought they might have rubbed in my shoe, along with the combined fluids of water and, ahem, waste water, as well as the heat of the day.

I came into transition, happy to see the bike over with. My concern was that the foot I’d been unable to put pressure on during the bike leg was going to impede my running. I picked up my second transition bag and this time went into the men’s changing tent (I preferred the women’s tent - the bloke next to me had no shorts on and was ‘greasing’ himself up for the run!). It was a relief to find, when I took my shoe off, to see that other than looking damp and forming a slight blister, it was nothing worse. I opened my pot of Vaseline, which had turned to liquid in the heat, and poured some onto the underside of my foot, around my armpits and groin.

Advice I’d been given from a multi-Ironman competitor was to take it very steady for the first 6 miles. I took this to heart so much that when Eric saw me go past he shouted, “At least make it look like you’re trying!” The route was five 8km-ish loops along the seafront. I’d thought when I entered the event that this would send my bonkers, but actually it was great to watch other runners and to be amongst lots of people both supporting and competing. It also gave you the opportunity to compare your progress, taking split times each lap. My splits were approximately 45min, 42mins, 46mins, 43mins and 47mins which I felt showed I ran a controlled and steady marathon. Apart from lap 3 when I didn’t feel great for some of it, I thoroughly enjoyed the steady pace and concentration required to run a marathon. I’ve only run half-marathons before and swore that a full marathon, particularly on road, would be beyond me. Not so; I ran comfortably, apparently with a big smile adorning my face each time I went past my mates standing at the supporters feed station. And each time I went through this station I stopped to have a swig of drink and grab an energy gel, even a lick of ice-cream, from my girlfriend.

The saving grace on the run route was to be the sponges of water handed out at regular intervals by the sweetest, little primary school children from the Island. Each would be desperate to get you to take their sponge and with a ‘grazie’ from me and a ‘prego’ from them I kept myself cool and comfortable. Someone told us that the children who’d enjoyed doing this duty last year had told all their mates; this year they had too many offering to hand out sponges! Tony, who’d done the relay swim leg earlier in the day had managed to get a ‘lady shopper’ bicycle from the apartment and accompanied me for a few laps to break up the boredom and give me someone to talk to.

As each lap passed an official would give you a coloured band to slip on your wrist to mark a lap done. I couldn’t believe the feeling of jealousy I’d feel when I saw someone had red, green and white bands on their wrist. ‘That’s not fair, I’d scream in my head, ‘I want them!’. The flipside of this was when I had four bands on my wrist and passed a runner who had no bands on their wrist, and looked like they were close to collapsing, I couldn’t help but feel terrible sympathy for them and a feeling of guilt in having accrued almost all I needed!

And so to the finish; I picked up my fifth, and final, band and headed for the finish funnel. I rounded the corner, crossed the line, gave the girlfriend a big hug and burst into tears. All done in a very pleasing Ironman debut of 12 hours and 22 minutes.

256 competitors began Elbaman, but with 48 dropping out, just over 80% completed the event. I finished in 73rd position. The winning time was 9 hours 47 minutes. Despite this race being part of the Italian Championships, only 20 competitors (8% of the field) managed sub-11 hour times, giving an indication of how tough this event is. In comparison, at this years’ Ironman Australia 419 competitors (32% of the field) went under 11 hours.

Postscript: I awoke the next morning with stiff legs, two bruised toes and the surprise that I didn’t feel any worse. But I think a full recovery will take a good few weeks.


Have Your Say
Re: Elbaman report
Posted by ironteeth
Posted at 15:33:33 18th Oct 2009
Reply to this

What a great island and event. Almost turned out disasterous as BA forgot to put my bike on the correct flight so I had to wait in Pisa for 4 hours.
It was also my first ironman distance event and the bike section was amazing. I only managed to use the aerobars briefly, about 25 miles of the whole course. The rest of the time was either going up or descending sharp hairpins.It gave nothing back for all the uphill effort.
I only started triathlon 16 months ago with no athletic backgroud so was extremly happy with 12:50.
Big thanks to Marco Scotti for organising the event.
Next year will be Ironman Switzerland and Elbaman again!!