Having raced the course as it was as a Challenge event in 2012 and 2013, I was very much familiar with the swim and run portions, and the general layout of the race venue. Under the new Ironman banner, significant changes had been made to the bike course though; aligning it more to the typical terrain of the Jurassic coast, and overlapping in part with the original Ironman UK (Sherbourne) course. A big improvement in the aesthetic of the ride, though undeniably increasing it’s difficulty. Since it’s not too far to travel to Weymouth from my home, I’d made 3 trips to the area for the purpose of recce rides prior to the race. The first of which, back in April, was a bit of a shock to my rather out of shape system … I recall having to stop for a breather at least twice around the 90km loop!
Needless to say, my fitness improved somewhat over the course of the long summer build up, and by race-day I was ready for a shot at my goal of a Kona slot. This is not to say that there weren’t doubts: I’ve training ‘differently’ (i.e less!!) through 2016 for a number of reasons… and it had been a long time since I’d been on the start line of a race where the outcome was of real importance to me. Probably a full year - racing the Challenge version of this race, as the ETU long course champs and my final “hurrah” as a Pro.
My routine has always been to get a swim, a ride and a run done of the morning of Race Eve prior to racking…but the weather was terrible, and so on this occasion I skipped that routine rather than get drenched. The brake set-up on the Dassi had been a little temperamental for the last of my few rides…but a short test ride down the road during a brief break in the weather indicated that all was fine, no need for more tinkering….and I handed it over to rack.
Wearing a 4-digit race number was rather unfamiliar, having to rack my bike in the huge corral amongst so many others, and hang my bags somewhere in the middle of 2000 others. All gave me good cause to worry over minute details of the upcoming race day…which is nothing new. I now accept this fretting as part of my pre -race routine, and would be lost without it, In reality, I’ve done this enough times to be quite relaxed about whatever comes up during the actual race, and pretty sure that I’d perfectly ably locate my bike and bags…but, still - that part of my brain enjoys dissecting the possibilities of what COULD go wrong.
As usual I had the great fortune to be staying at my friends cottage in the nearby village of Combe Keynes - allowing me very relaxed couple of days before the race. I prefer to be a little out of town and able to measure out the dosage of The Hype that i’ m exposed to pre race- i.e other people’s anxieties. It’s great to catch up with the many acquaintances and familiar faces that I always see at events, but important for me that i’m able to retreat and escape it - to organise my kit, my thoughts and then turn on a mindless TV show or distract myself with some work.
Ellie had travelled down to support Suzie ( Big Suz) in the pro race, and her friend Andy, racing for a Kona slot in the full. This meant I was also to benefit from her superb support all day too :o)
We watched the pros off, and then got ready for our start. This was my first experience of the Rolling race start….and I found it confusing - there was no distant starters order…but it just became apparent that people were already swimming …with chip timing there was no rush to get in the water, in theory…but from a “tactical” point of view I didn’t want to be too far behind the better swimmers, if indeed they had chosen to position themselves in front.
It did however make for a pretty pleasant swimming experience - no panic, time to get into my swimming, and find similar paced swimmers to group up with. The conditions were absolutely beautiful - in stark contrast to both of my previous experiences swims at this location! My swim time was pretty good, considering it was mostly at a pleasant pace, and I lead my age group out of the water. It was nice that there were plenty of kit bags surrounding mine in T1 for a change!
Unusually, race day was combined with the 70.3 distance event, which actually had about twice he number of competitors than the full Ironman. Only this 70.3 race had Pros racing ( the Ironman being AG only) and this is the only reason that I can think of for starting both distances at the same time the full - to enable the professionals a clear run at the courses rather than having to negotiate through the slower field of Ironman racers. I’d certainly support that decision - to give the pros a fair race - but seriously question whether sending the amateur 70.3 athletes out on the same gun as the Ironman starters. The very predictable result of this is that the fast Ironman athletes - those actually “racing” the event for age group wins and Kona slots - quickly caught up with the very back markers of the half distance.
I felt really strong on the bike, and able to ride relatively hard. There was, as predicted by the logistics, a constant line of 70.3 athletes out on the road to get past. Keeping in mind that these people were starting their ride at the same time as us, having swum only half the distance, you can imagine that their pace on the bike was not especially urgent either. They were riding two or more abreast at times, having conversations along the way! It was necessary therefor to remain super alert, and constantly shouting warnings and reminders to “please ride on the left”. I heard one or two more amped up Ironman athletes being pretty aggressive about this - a little unkind perhaps, but perfectly understandable. It was a frustrating situation. I had to laugh when one 70.3 athlete responded to my request that he move over to allow me to pass with the comment “oh, to save yourself two seconds? chill out!!” … I’d have like to point out that if each of the 1200 competitors in the 70.3 race all cost me 2 seconds, that would be 40 minutes, which I would like to save …..but of course it took me far too long to do that mental arithmetic with my “race brain” on!! And, on reflection, that first lap spent passing a constant stream of 2-3 riders abreast surely provided a good slip-stream to ride in, as well as the psychological effect of constantly passing people, which on the whole provided quiet pleasant exchange of encouragement that my pro racing ( mostly very solitary rides) had lacked.
I was only about 20km into the first lap when I failed to notice and rode directly into a pot-hole, loosing my gel flask before I’d even touched a drop of my nutrition. A draw back of this system, which to be fair has worked well for me to date as it saves the need of storing, opening and discarding the packets of 8-10 Powerbar Gels, but it does pretty much put all my eggs (aside from 2 caffeinated gels, and a mars bar that I carry separately) in the one basket. So I had to make a stop at the next aid station, and pick up a supply of bars (they didn’t have gels) - which are not my preferred type of race food, but would have to do today. I was pleased that I’d made the decision to put on my Reko cycle jersey in T1, and therefor had pockets which I could fill up.
As I rode I was also aware of the rubbing of brakes - the ones that i thought i’d adjusted pretty well prior to race day. In retrospect it’s likley that hitting the pot hole knocked my wheel a bit, and with very little tolerance in the very aero design on my Dassi TT bike, the rim was now rubbing against the brakes on each revolution. I did my best to put this out of my mind,…but of course in race situations, these things are had to ignore, and actually become a bit of an obsession! I knew I wasn’t carrying the correct tool (inexplicably these brake require a T10 to loosen the cable, and I’d decided against the minute extra weight of carrying one with me) to fix it. I considered stopping a the mobile mechanics…but reckoned that it’d be unlikely even that they had one. or it would take too long to find it. Instead I just rode on. My friend Naomi who’s also living out at Combe Keynes, a fine ultra athlete herself and hardened Iron-supporter was waiting about 40km in, told me that I was in 5th position and had a big lead on my age group. I wasn’t keen to stop again.
As we turned for our second lap, and the 70.3 competitors had all returned to T2, the roads were suddenly rather lonely! After several km of riding on my own, I decided to stop and see if i could resolve the rubbing brakes at the side of the road. There wasn’t much I could do other than attempt to re-align the wheel…as I was doing so at the side of the road, a girl, apparently attached to the rear wheel of a guy passed. That looked a bit closer than necessary to me, so back on my bike I rode behind a while before pulling up alongside and suggesting that she created a little gap as i passed them. I’m not sure that she understood me, as her response was quite a big grin!! We passed on another a couple more times, depending on terrain, and I made a further stop to adjust my brakes ) which to my frustration, i’d managed to make a lot worse in my first attempt to fix… she seemed pretty determined to stick with her man, who was a British guy and so I assume not know to her. I just put it out of my mind - there wasn’t anything I could do about it, and at the end of the day, she was not in my age group. She didn’t look likely to be a fantastic runner. Elle’s fried Andy caught up with me near the end of the second lap, I guess he’d not been having a great day so far. To be honest by that time I was “feeling’ it - the 180km course has a total of over 2000m ascent, delivered in a unrelenting series of smaller climbs - and fed up listening to my damn brakes stealing the pithy watts I was putting out! Thankfully, the last 10km of the course was a nice long descent back to town on the coast.
I was unsure of what position I was in hitting the run, I think still in 5th. I was also unsure of what sort of pace I’d be able to sustain for the marathon on the very little running I’d been able to do over the summer. But still, I set off at an optimistic pace glad for the support of the crowds there, in pursuit of the women ahead of me. I knew for sure that there were none in my age group, but had no idea how close behind my competition might be. I had my super supporters Ellie and Naomi out there to feed me the info I wanted as well as my drinks. Naomi was confident that I had a gap, but wisely kept quiet about how big it was at that point! Over the first half of the run I passed a couple of women and was holding 3rd place into the 3rd lap, That’s when I decide to take a loo stop….and at that point was passed by another girl (AG35-39) . I caught up to her and we ran together for a half lap, back from the far point of the beach towards the town, it was good to have something t focus on other than the discomfort in my legs, and good for my pace. We pushed each other along a bit, until we passed her husband, who with a very loud voice encouraged her “ if you’re going to go - go now” she was chasing two in her AG group up ahead, and only had about 10 km left to do it in. I also encouraged her to push on…and she did. Feeling pretty secure of my own position in AG by that point, and was holding a tough pace without the “need” to do so, I watched her slowly pull away. I suppose after that, I slowed down. She went on to catch and pass one of the girls ahead of her, and placed second overall.
The “apparent” drafter was 3rd, and in retrospect I’m annoyed that I’d not fought a bit more to beat her on the run… my marathon time was 3:30 dead, and although that effort felt just as hard at the time as my best runs ever have, iIm sure that with one less loo stop and a bit more motivation to suffer the podium was attainable.
But…Overall I was pleased with my performance, enjoyed it too and successfully earned a Kona slot, These were my 3 intended outcomes, and to be honest the fact that I hadn’t really prepared myself, mentally or physically, for more is what prevented me from “fighting” harder for that podium spot.
A very nice way to end the season, picking up a lai and an entry to the Dream Race with over year to get myself in the best shape for it.