We were staying at The Sea Breeze Lodge, only a 15 minute walk from race start, much better than the half hour drive we had at Bolton. We gave ourselves a cheeky lie-in, so up at 04:30 for a 7am start. We wanted to be there at 6am to put our bottles on the bikes and get down to the start area, so that meant leaving at oh-five-thirty (including contingency time for anything unexpected).
There were no unexpecteds so we set off on plan. We bumped into a few of the other Ultimate Athletes in transition performing last-minute bike checks. Eimear Mullan was racked opposite us so there was a TV camera there following her every move. Eimear won the Female Pro race at Ironman 70.3 UK Wimbleball and Ironman UK Bolton, and was a hot favourite with plenty of local support here in her home race.
Eimear (with her back to us) getting TV attention whilst making some last minute bike adjustments
It was a 10 minute stroll back down the promenade to swim start, so we sauntered down in good time. The great thing about having a plan and following it is that race day morning is a very relaxed affair. You can take the time to focus on the race plan and get in the right place mentally without panicking about if you've remembered your goggles or your bike tyres are adequately inflated.
The swim start was in waves, with the male and female professionals setting off on the dot of 7am, the M18-24 age group at 7:05, all the males 25-39 at 7:20, and Mrs setting off with all the females and the oldest male age groups at 7:35.
I was a bit more colourful than usual - it was my first outing in my shiny IM Talk tri-suit, I had my customary yellow Compressport calf guards on, and the previous day I'd got a bit concerned about the temperature and - determined to have a quick transition and not have to mess about putting a cycling top on - I picked up some Compressport arm sleeves from the "expo". For now, all this was safely tucked away under my wetsuit, so I looked like one of the dozens of unidentifiable men in black wetsuits with goggles and blue swimming caps on. I'm unique! Just like everyone else!
The "expo" - Ironman UK really need to get better at this, it looks like a half-hearted afterthought
I swam out to the start pen (no running into the sea start, disappointingly - I think Wales has a run-in though, I'm looking forward to that) and bobbed about. I didn't suffer any anxiety or 'freaking out' (sudden racing pulse, some hyperventilation) that I've had before. Now I've had a few good starts like this I'm hoping my open-water freak-outs are a thing of the past.
The professionals (red hats) about to go, M18-24 (green hats) waiting behind
The quietest hooter in the world was sounded, and we were go! First target was the nearest big orange buoy. When the pros went off some of them got the wrong target and headed off to a yellow buoy that was further afield - later one of them was to blog about it being due to a lack of clarity in the pro briefing. For the last few waves they had gone out in a boat and deflated it to avoid any further confusion.
No such problems for us though, and I set off hard and, for once, in a straight line. The sea was very calm, granted there were some waves that were bigger than I've had in lake swims, but they were completely manageable and hardly impacted my ability to swim or sight. I think we were lucky, the weather had been bad overnight, and the sea was certainly rougher during swim practice the day before.
As a result of trying to set off hard I ended up in the washing machine for longer than usual. Right up to the first buoy, and for the first half of the long straight parallel to the shore I had people all around me - fingers tapping at my toes and ankles, arms around my head, my hands banging the guy in front, and shoulder to shoulder with someone next to me who was matching my speed and cadence perfectly (except he was breathing to the other side to me, so every stroke we turned our heads to look directly at each other - I'm thankful we both had tinted goggles on looking into his eyes every stroke would have been very freaky, normally only my wife gets this close to me!).
I worked hard to swim in a straight line and my GPS plot shows I got it about right. No drifting to the right and heading out to sea for me! I was making an effort to take the time to sight clearly, and only put the power down when I was sure I was oriented correctly.
I eventually got bored being in the cluster of swimmers I was in - I couldn't see a route through the middle so I dropped back and overtook them down one side. In retrospect I should have done this earlier - but while I was in there I was enjoying the drafting effect and saving some energy.
The nose clip I'd got to stop the sea water flooding up my nose and making me sick was working like a charm. My confidence and comfort in the swim was in no small part due to this. It's now going to be a standard part of my sea-swim kit (mental note: I must add it to the enormous list of things to take to Ironman races).
I took the end turn buoy a little wide and needed to correct - it was almost a 180 degree turn and I hadn't quite gone round enough. The return leg was against the current. The waves felt larger in this direction, and I was tossed around a little bit, but still nothing at all concerning. I hope Wales is going to be as calm, but I suspect it won't be.
Swim exit was on a rock-free beach - I swam in as close as I could before getting to my feet and setting off for T1. I'd kicked my legs hard for the last 150-200m and they were sturdy and supported me without wobbling. I think back to the first epic (to me) swim I ever did - the Nokia Swim (now the Speedo Open Water series) event in The Thames a few years ago. It was a touch over 2 miles and took me almost an hour and 20 minutes. When I got out I had to be helped to my feet, and then couldn't stand or balance for the next 10 minutes - how times have changed. I remember on that day thinking "How the hell can anyone cycle after swimming this far?".
It was a fair trek down the sea front to T1. There was soft green matting down over the road - a lifesaver for me as I have girly feet that don't go bare very often and therefore aren't very good for running on pointy concrete. My jogs from swim to T1 always see me getting overtaken by a lot of people, and today was no exception. This might be an area to work on in the future - particularly for races where there's a long route to transition.
- Swim, 1.9km, 37:33
- 26th out of 189 in my age group (13.8%)
- 150th out of 924 finishers (16.2%)
This was an amazing swim for me. As I mentioned recently, I'm normally at the back of the first third both in my age group and overall. I don't quite know how I jumped up so far, but I'm really very very pleased with this performance. Looking at the data it's clear my stroke rate fell off quite dramatically - if I can work to keep that up there's another few minutes of improvement for sure.
I had aimed in this race to get transitions quick and efficient. I think I did pretty well in T1. I expect my time is slowed by the length of the run - I only took a few moments to deal with my blue bag and get kitted up. I'm not sure I could go much quicker without doing less - shoes on bike and not bothering with socks, for example. This might be worth it in a future 70.3, but for full distance races comfort is going to be far more important than 30s saved in transition. An equally windy route out with the bike to the mount line, and it was time to ride.
- Transition 1, Swim to Bike, 08:00
The bike route was reputedly fast and mainly flat, and it didn't disappoint. My objective here was clear - to keep my effort under control, and save a lot of energy for the run. This meant keeping my HR down, well within my Zone 1 range (up to 152 BPM) - I was aiming for for 130-135 BPM. As is normal when I first get on the bike, I was up in the 160s. I know from experience that if I relax, focus on breathing smoothly, and don't push a big gear then my HR will drift downwards. It did this over the first 20 minutes or so, and I settled in to my rhythm.
I had to exercise quite a lot of control here - on the gentle rises I wanted to just power up in the same gear, keeping my cadence up and pushing over the top - instead I forced myself to change down and try and keep cadence and power output even. I really did need to say out loud a few times "Don't push, change down!" - I was overtaking someone who was out of the saddle sawing away in a crazy high gear at one point, I wonder if he thought I was talking to him...
The bike was fast - really fast. I kept a close eye on my HR and worked hard to not work too hard. On some of the long straights I was a gear lower than I felt I wanted to be, but I needed to preserve strength and energy. I generally only changed up when I needed to get my cadence down and avoid "spinning out" (pedalling so fast you lose form or can't get any power down). It was mentally challenging, particularly when I was getting overtaken (admittedly, that only happened a couple of times), and is certainly something I'm going to need to look at in training.
Bike HR: Once I'd got my HR down after transition, I held it fairly constant well all the way through
I can really appreciate now how advantageous it would have been to be able to see my power output during this period. To know for sure if I could push it a little bit more, or if I needed to back off. I'll be looking more seriously into this in the future.
We'd had a bit of a nutrition error the night before and realised there wasn't enough gatorade mix to go round so our bike bottles had one with gatorade mixed to the correct strength, and one with just water and High5 Zero electrolyte tablets. I really didn't want to have to stop at the aid stations, so I adjusted my nutrition plan from one half-bar and one gel per hour to two half-bars per hour for the outbound leg of the out-and-back course during which I'd drink the electrolyte drink. Once I'd consumed my four half-bars I'd move on to gels, and I'd swap to the gatorade mix for the return leg. This worked perfectly, I didn't feel under-fuelled or fatigued at all.
The bike was largely uneventful. I got annoyed at the usual things such as dropped gel wrappers, people riding side-by-side in pairs blocking the road, and the time I was overtaken by a group of 8-10 riders who were clearly all riding in a peloton with no regard for the drafting regulations.
I was getting a bit numb in the "undercarriage" by the end and was ready to get off. As it was such a fast and non-technical circuit there was very little movement on the bike - just sat in the aero position pedalling away, therefore any little rubs had plenty of time to get settled in. Mrs has recently got an Adamo saddle that she swears by, so I may try that out before my next long fast aero ride.
Flying through Galway back to the transition area I was struck again at the number of people who, with 5km to go, just seem to give up and forget they're in a race, I've seen it at every Ironman so far - just merrily cruising the last few km and chatting to each other. Guys, you're still racing! Get a move on! I swooshed by, wheels humming, arms tucked in. I've got T2 to get to. Their loss!
- Bike, 90km (56 miles), 2:42:15
- 48th out of 189 in my age group (25.4%)
- 196th out of 924 overall (21.2%)
This position in the field reflects my effort management well. I know I could go faster, but at the potential expense of the run. When I'm going flat-out I know I can get into the top 10%, so well-managed effort and heart rate together with a top-quarter finish seems like a good result.
My plan for T2 was the same as before, fast and efficient. I went the wrong way slightly after racking my bike, and probably could have shaved a few seconds off in the tent, but all things considered it was fast enough. I was soon with running shoes and hat on, and out onto the promenade for the half-marathon distance run.
- Transition 2, Bike to Run, 04:22
This was where I was hoping to realise the benefit of a well-manged bike phase. I'd avoided looking at my overall elapsed time since start until now. I sneaked a peek and saw three hours and thirty-three minutes. This means I need to break 1:57 for the run in order to come in under 5:30 for the whole event. That sounds like a sensible target at this stage, given I was aiming for sub 2-hours for the run.
I decided that 5:30/km was a good pace to set off at, and promptly ran the first km in 5:04 - OK, a little faster than intended, but it felt good. My cadence was high at over 90 steps per minute - this was very good news - at Wimbleball I struggled to get my cadence up (I didn't have a Garmin foot-pod back then so I don't have data, just going on my memory of the experience). The pace was higher than I'd planned but it felt good, like it was something I could sustain. I decided to try and hold at around 5:10/km and see what happened.
The run course consisted of three laps up and down the promenade with an aid station at each end. We entered the run course in the middle, next to the finishing area, so unlike Bolton's point-to-point plus 3-laps-but-really-4 (a realisation I found very challenging mentally) this was a genuine honest 3-lap circuit.
Run course: Three honest laps, pancake-flat with great surfaces
I held my pace well as the km ticked by. After about 12km the going got a little harder, and I had to make more of an effort to keep my cadence up over 90, but I held it well, and started thinking about when to see if I had anything left to see if I could speed up for the finish.
At about this point I spotted Mrs coming the other way. She was running a bit awkwardly and holding her arm in the classic way that cyclists do when you see them getting up from a crash with a broken collar bone "I came off my bike", she shouted, "I think I've broken my collar bone!" - I was obviously concerned, but she seemed to be fairly chirpy (or had so much adrenaline in her body she couldn't feel anything), so I pressed on.
I decided that when I got my third arm band (one per lap, so everyone knows which lap you're on) I was going to turn it up a bit. That would be with about 4km to go. I would then try turning it up more from the final aid station, about 750m to go. The wind strengthened as I collected my arm band so my efforts went on holding my pace. I checked my time and was just over 5 hours elapsed. I couldn't run 4km in 15 minutes, so 5:15 wasn't on the cards, but I should be able to easily clear 5:30. I did manage to speed up towards the end a little bit, but nothing particularly heroic.
- Run, 21.1km (13.1 miles), 1:50:23
- 59th out of 189 in my age group (31.2%)
- 258 out of 924 finishers overall (27.9%)
This was just the run I was hoping for - even paced, very little fade, enough energy for a little push at the end, and not collapsing over the line. Absolutely bloody spot-on the plan.
The stats speak for themselves, I've never placed this highly in a run of any distance before (in a triathlon or as a single event). I'm absolutely overjoyed - and I know I have more to give here with more training.
I crossed the line with a watch time of 5 hours and 23 minutes, and found out later my official finish time was 5:22:35 - that's 52:33 faster than the IM 70.3 PB I had set at my first event earlier in the year at IM 70.3 UK.
- Total race time, 5:22:35
- 39th out of 189 in my age group (20.6%)
- 189th out of 924 finishers overall (20.5%)
I didn't have much time to celebrate - I went off to the finishers' area to collect my t-shirt and food and drink (tea! They had tea! Wonderful), before heading back to the run course to catch up with Mrs. She looked to be running well and we agreed to meet at the medical tent.
I have to point out here that the medical staff and the marshals were wonderfully helpful and considerate, they all showed genuine concern for her well-being.
A trip to A&E revealed she had broken her collar bone in two places, having had a pretty major bike crash about 10km out. In T2 she insisted on going out for the run anyway and finishing the race - amazing resolve and strength, mentally and physically. I'm in awe of her determination.
In summary, this was the best managed race I've ever completed. I stuck to the plan closely, but with enough flexibility to adapt to the day. My pacing and effort was almost ruler-flat for the bike and run - suggesting I could have pushed harder. Most importantly, I didn't die in the run - I didn't see my HR sky rocket (or drop to a point where I couldn't load it properly), my cadence didn't fall off appreciably, and I didn't get too fatigued or hungry. This was just the right time for this race to come off well, and gives me good confidence for Wales - at least that I'll get to the end, even if I don't set any PBs along the way.
I even got a shout-out form my main man, Coach Joe Beer
One race left, 2 weeks to go - bring it on!