Ironman Lanzarote debrief with Kate Comber, Sophie Bubb and Ruth Purbrook

By Dave Colley | 11 Minute Read

Ironman Lanzarote 2017 was a successful one for British women. There was an all-British podium, there were four GB women in the top six and seven in the top twenty five.  Three of those ladies were drinking Precision Hydration.

Kate Comber came 6th in 10:22:34. Sophie Bubb clocked in at 11:04:03 for 12th place (2nd in the 35-39 AG) and Ruth Purbrook of Team Freespeed crossed the line in 11:33:39 for 22nd place. 

I was lucky enough to chat to all three ladies last week to debrief on their race and discuss whether we're in a golden age for GB women in triathlon...


It wasn't as windy as in previous years but I see the temperature got up to 36°C! What was the hardest thing about the conditions on the day and did you have to adapt your race plan much for that?

Kate: After really suffering in the heat on the run in South Africa, I was really worried that I would have similar issues in Lanzarote. That's actually why I came to see Precision Hydration recently.

Andy suggested that my issues could hydration related. With his advice I decided to use the Lanzarote race as a chance to test out taking in more fluids and electrolytes on the bike to see how this affected how I felt by the time I hit the run.

Sophie: Although not as windy as some of the training rides I've done out there, it was still pretty breezy in places so you still had to be prepared for that! On the temperature, the first part of the bike section was generally overcast so OK, but as the midday sun cranked up and we got to the tougher second half of the bike, I was drinking (and eating) as much as possible as I knew the run was just going to be brutal.

With the wind direction as it was, there was no breeze around the start/finish of the run course, so I definitely took care not to arrive at T2 completely broken and dehydrated. I was pretty annoyed that there was no ice available on the run and that most of the sponges were warm, but somehow I stayed pretty consistent. If I'd gone bigger on the bike it would have gotten VERY messy.  

Ruth: The hardest thing was definitely the temperature - the run was mid 30s and completely exposed to the sun. I just tried to make sure I was even more careful about taking on liquid and my PH.

We did get lucky with the wind though as Sophie said. The 2 days previous I nearly had a sense of humour failure doing my short spins on the bike because it was just so windy. However I have trained in Lanzarote a few times, so was pretty prepared for it to be like that. 

Ruth Purbrook talks us through her performance at Ironman Lanzarote

What makes IM Lanzarote one of the toughest races?

Sophie: The hills (and the wind usually)! IM Bolton's bike course is known for being bumpy, but that's only over a 1600m of ascent, Lanza is 2550m. The heat is very dry so although pretty extreme it's very different to the humidity challenge posed in Kona.

Kate: For me it was the mass swim start! Even though the pros got a 10m lead on the rest of the field, I was quickly surrounded by people in the water. I spent half of the first lap sandwiched between two big men and at one point got kicked in the face and pulled backwards by someone grabbing my leg! Fortunately I then found some space to settle into my stroke and enjoy the swim. The run was also pretty challenging due to the heat, but the amazing support from the crowd helped get me round the course.

Ruth: I'm with Kate, the mass swim start is quite tough; it's just really hard to get into a rhythm for a while because of how congested it gets. Then the combination of rolling roads, wind and heat makes it a tough one. I don't have anything else to compare it to though as this was my first full Ironman...


Kate Comber riding hard on the bike leg at Ironman Lanzarote

    How long before the race did you arrive in Lanzarote? Had you done much heat training in the last few months to prepare for such a hot race?

    Ruth: I arrived on the Wednesday night (for the Saturday race). I had tried to add on some sauna sessions after my swims but to be honest with the time pressures of squeezing sessions in around work I didn't get in as many as I would have hoped for. 

    Sophie: I arrived on Monday evening and had been out for a week on my own in March to train. I was also lucky enough to join the 9Endurance ​training camp in Mallorca 3 weeks before the race. At the back end of last season I raced the ITU Long Distance Worlds in Oklahoma in similar dry heat and had survived ok, so I felt relatively confident as long as I kept drinking my PH!

    I have two young boys (2 and 3), so training day to day can be tough (my husband travels a lot for work too). To try and step it up a bit and increase the efficiency of my training we thought the easiest approach was for me to get some time away to really focus on my training in similar conditions (hence the two weeks away) and thankfully the grandparents responded to the challenge!

      Kate: I arrived in Lanzarote on Tuesday midday. I also added in some short sauna sessions after my morning swims - even if it was mainly just a good chance to stretch out my legs in the heat. I made sure to include some longer bike sessions where I over layered, or if I was forced to turbo because of the weather I'd try and resist using a fan.


      Sophie Bubb explains how she approached her race at Ironman Lanzarote

      What was the strongest aspect of the race for you? (Funnily enough, it looks like Kate's strong point was the swim, Ruth's the bike and Sophie the run!)

      Sophie: Would agree with you there Dave...we should do a relay event sometime girls! To be honest, I was hoping for a faster swim but have had a few niggles recently. But 1:04 was enough to get me out ahead of my main rivals. 

      My run is really coming on and I'm pretty happy with it. In easier conditions it should be closer to 3:20. The bike remains my big training focus, at 48 kgs I'm constantly trying to get stronger. On Saturday I hit my targets until around 150km when I hit a bit of a low, so hopefully on an easier course I can make it all the way round, but maybe this low actually helped me stay strong for the run...  

      Ruth: The bike is always my strength, however I was feeling nauseous coming out of the swim and so my first 2 hours weren't great. I had to have 2 toilet stops but then managed to get into my rhythm until about 140k where I hit a bit of a mental block. In particular I enjoyed the stretch from Fire Mountain until the end of the descent from Mirador Del Rio. 

        Kate: Yeah, my swim always tends to be the strongest for me as I come from a swimming background. Though, I was hoping for a faster swim time. But considering what a scrum it was in the water, I'm happy with my time in this race.

        So, pretty sure I know the answer here, but how did you stay hydrated?

        Kate: I had a bottle of PH 1500 the night before the race and again in the morning. On the bike I had 1 bottle of PH 1000 and 1 bottle of my carbohydrate drink for fuelling. My plan was to drink 750ml per hour, so once these bottles were gone I picked up water from the aid stations and took on a SweatSalt tablet every hour. On the run I took on water at every aid station and continued taking on a SweatSalt every hour.

        Sophie: ​I also drank PH 1500 pre-race ​and had 750ml of PH 1000 in my front bottle on the bike. I use OTE's energy/carb drink in the back bottle. At the aid stations I took some energy drink and some water then used SweatSalt tabs.

        On the run I took a soft 500ml bottle with PH 1500 with me and SweatSalt tabs, then got water, flat coke etc as required. Unfortunately, I also had to take in some Imodium...

        Ruth: I start lighter, with a bottle of PH 500 before the race, then I had 2 bottles with PH 1500 on my bike, with SweatSalts to take in between as needed. I then had more PH 1500 in my special feed bag to top me up. On the run I was taking on water and coke at every aid station. 

          What did you eat during the race?

          Sophie: On the bike I take a mixture of Chia Charge bars and OTE energy gels (7 in a small bottle​).

          I would normally have put some sandwiches etc at the special needs station but there was a big descent after so didn't bother...

          Kate: On the bike I consumed 60g of carbs per hour with a picnic of TORQ gels, bars and chews (will probably up this a bit more in future races as I felt a little low on energy at the end of the bike). On the run I took on a TORQ gel every 30mins.

          Ruth: I was alternating between 3 gels an hour or a mix of Clif shot blocks and Clif bar - but I was aiming for 75g carbs an hour on the bike. When I got onto the run my tummy gave out on me and I couldn't eat anything until the the last 10k, where I tried to force down some oranges as I couldn't face any more gels and those were the only other option! 


          It was an all-British podium, there were 4 GB women in the Top 6 and 7 in the Top 25. Any thoughts on why British women smashed it in this race? Are we entering a golden age for British women in tri?

          Kate: I think long distance triathlon is becoming more and more popular in the UK. With strong role models such as Chrissie Wellington, Rachel Joyce and Lucy Gossage I think women are being inspired to give Ironman racing a good go.

          Ruth: Yeah, I agree, I think we have such good depth in GB women in triathlon - partly due to now having so many great role models to inspire us as Kate said. It's great seeing the GB ladies do so well, with so many more coming up through the ranks too. 

          Sophie: We certainly do seem to have a big group of amazing female pros! As much as I try to catch up with them, I'm still miles off! There has been so much female pro success at IM and 70.3 all over the world in the last few months, it really is amazing. ​At amateur level, I think people are just getting more and more serious, but you'd have to say the Danes dominated the female AG ranks but this is probably because they all train in a pro team environment I believe!  


            Overall, how happy were you with your result?

            Ruth: I was actually really disappointed - I had such high expectations and was really excited to see what I might be able to do over the full distance. However with my tummy not playing ball I spent 30 mins of the run in portaloos and more time walking, as well as those stops on the bike. I feel very lucky that with that performance I managed to get a Kona slot...

              Kate: On the whole I am happy. Whilst I would love to have placed higher, I did the best I could on the day and that is all I could ask of my body. My biggest achievement was the breakthrough I made in my race hydration!

              As a result of focusing on fluid intake, something I had previously neglected, I was able to start the run strong and cope with the heat. Before this race I was worried that I would have to limit myself to racing in cooler climates, now I know that my issues weren't with the heat but with hydration...

              Sophie: I was initially a bit upset, mainly because I've done 4 Ironmans (plus a long distance Worlds)​ ​and 3 times I've clocked 11 hour 04! Obviously this was the toughest course I've done so it represents an improvement, but it was still a bit frustrating.

              I also knew there was only one Kona spot in my AG and my Danish rival wanted to go. On reflection though she has an IM PB of 9:35 and I was only 13 minutes behind so, yes on reflection I'm happy. Getting up on the podium is always a real honour. I've got two more chances at a Kona slot so will just up my game and hope it works out. As a family we try to enjoy each event on its own but we all know Kona is where you benchmark yourself...


              Sophie Bubb celebrates her epic podium performance at Ironman Lanzarote with her family

              You all have to balance work and/or family life with training, do you have any particular tips for athletes trying to do the same?

              Kate: I'm very fortunate that I'm able to work just 3 days a week and put more time into training. Even for me at times it can be a bit of a balancing act fitting everything in, especially when you are tired. I think that it's important to remember to enjoy the training and appreciate the fact that you are physically able to do the sport you love.

              Sophie: For me it's juggling family - 2 pre-school children - with training. I was working part time last year too but it was all a bit too much, so this year we've simplified things a little. ​The biggest thing for me is involving my family, not trying to work around them. My husband raced Ironman a bit years ago and has been off on all sorts of crazy adventures, so he 'gets it' and organises so much of it all for me.

              It's a challenge as he's away lots too but when he's back he loves being with our boys, so it seems to work out ok. In terms of particular training tips: get some advice on swim technique rather than spending hours flogging up and down a pool on your own. With the bike and run, do structured sessions rather than just cruising around. For me interval training is great. It's hard work but somehow seems more efficient. 'Cruisey' long stuff can then be done with friends and family. My husband sometimes rides with the boys behind whilst I run, which can be fun - if a little hectic at times!

              Ruth: Firstly you have to try and keep it fun - we all do triathlon because we love it, so if you keep the training fun you're more likely to want to go and train rather than feeling you have to. If you can build a good network of training buddies, then training is a social affair as well as making you able to push yourself harder. 

                What's next for you all then ladies? What's your main goal this year?

                Ruth: Next up I have Wimbleball 70.3, Sweden 70.3 and then no plans yet until Kona. So, the main aim will be to sort out my tummy problems for Kona and try and deliver the performance I know I'm capable of out there. 

                Sophie: Ironman UK in July for me, I was 5th overall last year and Amateur Champ, so not sure it can get much better than that but I'm very excited about it. My main aim is Kona but if it doesn't go my way then it'll be the ITU Long Distance Worlds in Canada at the end of August. I got a Silver last year, so quite fancy a gold...  

                Kate: I'm going to get stuck into some solid training for a couple of months and then race Ironman Maastricht in August. After that I hope to target another Ironman to round off the season - not sure which one yet, so many choices!


                Some great races and targets there! Best of luck with the rest of your seasons and here's to more success for GB women at Ironman!

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