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IMUK Race Report
Race day came around so quickly. I try to spread out the little jobs of race week across the final few days just to fill the time and keep myself occupied. My to-do-list on Thursday was ‘Steady Run. Sort kit. Massage. Hair Cut.’ I considered that a busy day! It’s a nice time to chill and embrace the feelings that surround race week. Checking the weather and boiling up more pasta all begin to fade into one.
Ironman UK is a well oiled machine, with the Macron Stadium being a perfect venue to host registration, an ever improving expo (if a bit pricey) and location of T2. Nothing mega going on in the goody bag, but if you want to add to your shot of free shower gel, simply do a few passes of the Innocent Coconut Water girl.
The overnight rain had left T1 as a bit of a muddy one. I always leave my bike racked in T1 fairly bare, adding my nutrition, water bottle and spares on race morning. My bike was very damp and needed a wipe down before I could begin the finishing touches. I add my shoes to the pedals, check the correct gearing is good to go. At least I know nothing can get lost or rain damaged overnight if I keep hold of it all.
Ready to rock, time to head to the seeding pens for the rolling start. Time is approaching. Nervous chat fills the air, crossed with the exhaling track pumps and requests for help with wetsuit zips.
Swim: 1:13:12 / AG Rank: 78 / Overall Rank: 518
My first experience of the rolling start, something IMUK introduced last year. The self seeding pens were paying lip service to the idea of everyone being of similar speed but it was pretty tight in there so just finding a space was a bonus. As soon as you cross the matt, your chip starts so get in the water and crack on sharpo. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my swimming. I found in training that my speed and times of reps had plateaued. I wasn’t getting any faster. But I was getting fitter. I could perform a good swim set or steady state swim much more efficiently. I could hold my splits rather than see them drop off. So I adopted this philosophy for my Ironman swim – OK, it doesn’t matter the time isn’t any quicker, but I’m much fresher for hitting the bike – fitter not faster.
The rolling start gave us all plenty more room on the straight length of the swim course, with the usual bottle neck appearing at each buoy. Obviously the course tightening comes with the flying elbows and nonsensical kicking as standard. I lost my hat and goggle as a result, but was lucky to save the goggles and only lose the white swim cap. The swim caps at IMUK are decent quality, Arena ones. I opened mine out the packet and straight on my head the morning of the race, but when swim caps are brand new they are a bit chalky and too new. It came off my head fairly easily, next time I’ll give the hat a good rinse and make sure the first time it goes on is not on the walk to the start line.
Pennington Flash is a purposeful venue for the race start. It’s tough to see further than a foot in front of you so there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the swim. Just focus on technique, try and find some feet and sight enough to stay on track.
Bike: 5:33:40 / AG Rank: 5 / Overall Rank 65
I started the ride with a single water bottle. The first aid station appears after around 15 miles and is a gentle climb up towards this point. I didn’t want to be carrying the extra weight. I still had the bottle cage fixed on my downtube, as well as the torpedo mount between the areobars. The reasons were two-fold; Running out of T1, pushing the bike holding the saddle makes it very unstable with all the weight at the front of the bike and I also prefer not to climb with all that weight on the front of the bike. Secondly I wanted the option to have two bottles. I took two bottles at each aid station regardless. One for hydration, the other to throw over me but discard. The aid stations on the bike were regular enough for me to not have to carry more than one water bottle if I didn’t need to.
The bike went so quickly. I was overtaking all day. I must’ve overtaken a couple of hundred people. My bike division rank was 5th in comparison to my swim of 78th. Defiantly need to limit the damage of the swim and use the strength of my cycling to move forward rather than catch up.
The two-lap bike course takes in 4 climbs in total, 2 times up Sheep House Lane and twice also up Hunters Hill. The atmosphere was fantastic at both of these locations. The course is also very technical. The descents aren’t straight and gradual, but twisty and fast. I am a confident descender and enjoy using this to marry out that average speed.
My bike was great, I felt fast and comfortable and was able to grind out a solid ride that I was hoping would come together from the training I had been putting in and seeing the gains slowly coming in time for a peak on race day. I experience some cramps in my quads on the final climb up Hunters Hill. I got through it, knowing the roll into T2 was not far away. I took everything I had left in my nutrition. I threw the remaining salt sticks down and as much water as possible, in preparation for a marathon that was beginning to warm up.
Off the bike in bare feet and a painful tip-toe across the car park at The Macron Stadium. I’m ready to run the marathon. I knew I’d had a good ride as it was quiet in T2, not many bikes on the racks. I felt good.
Run: 3:44:13 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall Rank: 74
Off the bike, I was in a confident mood. I felt strong. The first mile out of T2 was a brutal rise through a housing estate before a further 5 miles from Horwich into Bolton Town Centre to begin the laps. It was soon I realised I have lured myself into false pretences about how good I felt.
I headed out of T2 far too excited, far too fast. It was early into the marathon when I started to make deals with myself. The projected marathon time went straight out of the window and I was holding on. Yes, from 6 miles into a marathon, I was in survival mode. I couldn’t face looking too far ahead. There was too much road in front of me. I concentrated on the next 3 yards. I turned my gaze to the floor, sunglasses down and tried to disassociate the pain I was in and let my mind only worry about the next 3 yards. My back was locked, perhaps a result of a slightly over aggressive aero position on the bike or not sitting up early enough on the final roll into T2.
My stomach began to churn and I needed to have a toilet break to relieve myself in the most literal sense of the word. I thought things were going from bad to worse. I ran passed my coach Paul Savage who was well position for my current state of mind! I grabbed a gel at the next aid station, threw down coke and had a feast at most aid stations. I was craving calories and sugar hits wherever possible.
I saw my Mum, Dad, sister, brother-in-law and my new nephew Abel soon after, on the brutal little climb out of Botllon town centre. This was a huge moment for me. I had to keep going. This race had to end on my terms. I slowly began to feel ok and decided to push on until the very end. My feet were in agony, I was hot, depleted and so close to home. I was still unable to ignore the aid stations and had to consider every ounce of energy right up until the final few meters. Any piece of extra effort was coming at a huge cost.
Result: 10:39:52 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall: 74
I’m so proud of myself for not quitting. It was the hardest and most mental battle I’ve had with myself in any race. Perhaps I pushed too hard on the bike? I set off too quickly on the run. I didn’t respect the hilly run course in my training so I was surprised at what came on that 26.2 miles.
It seemed a lot of other guys struggled through the day as well. I ended up 6th in my Age Group which has concequently qualified me for a slot at Kona and a chance to take on the best at the Ironman World Championships on October 8th.
For now, I’m eating and chilling!
Oulton Park Duathlon was a great day out. I did the sprint distance at this event a couple of years ago when I first started out in triathlon and multisport and didn’t have a great day. I look back and see how far I’ve come since then.
After Challenge Weymouth in September 2015, I decided I could squeeze one more big effort at the full Iron distance in 2016. I’d raced Challenge Almere in 2014 and Challenge Weymouth in 2015, the latter really coming up short on the experiential aspect of achieving something HUGE. I signed up for Ironman France, an epic, famous race on the Cote d’Azur, but I’ve since transferred to Ironman UK for 2016 – this is a long story I’ll talk about another time!
The ‘razzmatazz’ – for want of a better word- that Ironman as a brand has when it rolls into town is arguably worth the premium that comes with it. Yes, I am saying Ironman races are worth paying more for, but not necessarily agreeing with that cost – a lesson in diplomacy there! When I did Ironman UK in Bolton in 2013, my first Iron distance race, it didn’t disappoint in making me feel like ‘Anything Was Possible’ to coin the tag line. Challenge Weymouth notably lacked this. Yes it was a cheaper entry point, but the Pavilion where registration was held was a touch shabby, the finisher chute was extremely anti-climatic and as the event was ran as a franchise the organisers struggled to deliver that grandeur Ironman can seemingly replicate week in week out.
It’s similar to the current commercial radio model of ‘National Brands, Delivered Locally’ whereby Capital Radio and/or Heart are well established London born brands that have been rolled out across the country. A clear single minded vision, that filters down from the top under a brand guided umbrella, the experience of listening should be the same in London, South Wales, Manchester, Liverpool etc while maintaing a local touch. Ironman clearly governs centrally and retains its brand values and delivers that experience in the same way, whether that event be in Brazil, Bolton, Texas or Zurich. The success of this models is built on network communication and a defined image that cannot be compromised at ground level. The stand outs like Kona (and for this analogy Capital Radio London!) are the flagships, they rule the roost, they are a different entity setting the standard. Attracting the biggest stars to their events, blazing the trail of what they do and leading by example. They are the aspirations of every athlete – or listener – that is coming into contact with the brand and these brand expectations need to go above and beyond – at every moment. Clients and commercial partners they align themselves with for example. These established brands have earned the right to be ‘picky’ of who they want next to their logos (you might not hear an ad for The Sun Newspaper on Capital Liverpool nor see Kona take Malboro as a title sponsor!) – protect the brand at all costs!
It will be interesting to see how Ironman re-brand the Weymouth event now they have bought it. Will the juggernaut of WTC demand their brand be protected with a course alteration or venue change (the locals in Weymouth did not like the event being ran on their roads last year!). Much like Capital FM landing in Liverpool, replacing Juice FM, the all new Capital FM Liverpool brand needs to have an impact. It certainly has, with Justin Bieber and Fluer East being part of the launch campaign, so will we will see some big names racking their bikes at the inaugural Ironman Weymouth?
For a moment, whilst I was soaking in the finishing chute at Ironman UK in 2013 I was the star. The 25 meter long finisher chute at Challenge Weymouth was over before I could enjoy the moment. Just look the difference above. Hearing Justin Bieber say your city’s name or being put on-air as a caller to win some VIP gig tickets is also making you the star. Aspirational, they are off to sit in the posh seats with a slap up meal and see their heroes perform on stage. The Ironman just wants to hear his/her name being called and then told ‘You. Are. An. Ironman’. Those few words carry a certain commercial weight that is fully in use from a savvy brand like Ironman.
These two brands are closely related in corporate values, brand awareness and the monopoly presence within their respective industry, but what they fundamentally share is the desire to deliver a better experience on the ground for their audience. It is an uphill struggle for their competitors to replicate. These hugely successful brands capture your mind and for me, it is very difficult to resist the association with the mainstream in both of these cases.
With just over 2 weeks until my ‘A’ race of 2014, the European Long distance Championships at Challenge Almere, I have acquired my first injury of the year. It’s depressing as hell, a real blow mentally and obviously physically. My right foot is struggling after a long 16 mile run on the Northern Irish coast, which was undulating and windy. I am due to rest and recover and see my physio and coach Paul Savage for treatment this Friday in the hope to turn this around quickly. I can take comfort from a great block of run training in the bag, so as long as I can avoid aggravating it further I will hopefully carry my base fitness over this next fortnight.
The moodiness I’ve felt since has brought me on to another point, which I am guilty of neglecting and selfishly putting to the back of my mind. The affect on my girlfriend Lynsey around this recent set back and how I then act and behave.
I think having my ‘A’ race so late in the year this time around has just dragged on a little too long. Training has been high volume and hard on my body. I have set a self imposed drinking ban 3 months out from the race and most of my weekends have revolved around long rides and brick session that take up a lot of time. It hit home when Lyns said in conversation that she is looking forward to going out for dinner and sharing a bottle of wine again. Something we take for granted and the fact that she has noticed that this fundamental part of our relationship has not happened for a while made me feel like I have let her down a bit and not given her the attention she deserves.
She is so good at letting me get on with things and understands how important training and this race is to me. She recently turned 30 and we hired a big cottage for 25 of her friends to party over two nights – I didn’t drink but I still had a good time. Then in Northern Ireland we went back to see her family and friends where again I can’t drink but still had a good time. It gets on me too, constantly answering questions as to why and how I can cope without drinking from her pissed up friends. It’s a like being pregnant – moody, sober and craving cake.
I’ve taken annual leave days to fit in training, something I should be using with Lyns. I go to bed early, leave her up on her own and I get moody when I don’t. It’s difficult to talk about training with anyone apart from my coach Paul as Lyns doesn’t really understand the regime and how I’m feeling about sessions and although she tries to answer my anxieties and worries as best she can, it’s difficult to turn our dinner time conversations into training as well. I’d hate to think that my boring lifestyle has held her back from doing things and going places or seeing people and having nights out. It’s important to make time for her.
I think the tipping point will have been when I shaved my legs, something Lyns was dead against. I still did it and she wasn’t happy! Listen to her reaction above when I recorded it and played it out on my radio show the following day!
I’m just ready to race now and feel training has gone on 4 weeks too long this year. I’m ready to get it out of the way and enjoy that dinner and drink with my girl. Spend some time, money and attention on her now rather than swim, bike, run which it has been for the majority of the year.
It’s just over a week until the PruHealth London World Triathlon. I’m really excited about this event. It’ll be my first ever Olympic distance race and the course will be a replica of the 2012 London Olympic Games Triathlon course and the pro’s will be battling it out the day before.
I hope it’ll have all the feel of a huge event & should be stark difference to Wilmslow Sprint triathlon I did at the beginning of May. There are a few palaces in the backdrop of Wilmslow, but for all their money they cannot drive or show courtesy to anything happening in their community. That open road bike route was scary and annoying. London will be closed roads, and from what I gather also nice and flat! I thought Newby Hall Duathlon got a bad rap for being dangerous, but was far safer and a far better experience than the well established Wilmslow Sprint Traithlon.
I entered a ballot to race in London and it has cost me £99. As I haven’t raced that much before I wanted to have a great experience. I hear a lot about this and how high it ranks on peoples choice of races. In my old motocross days it was all about getting a result and the race experience came from the battles you drew yourself into on the track itself. It could’ve been a muddy circular field but if you were in a battle it would have made for a great race or “experience”. Triathlon seems to generate most of its enjoyment and pay off by the course selection, the route, the elevation, the crowds etc.
Ironman UK was a great experience because of the race. I had ridden the course many times in training and was accustomed to the hard bits, the nice bits and what to expect, but it was the crowd and it was the race element that made for a great experience. I have heard great things about Challenge and their focus on the experience.
A recent podcast on IM Talk interviewed Felix Walchschofer gave a nice insight into how much he referred to the Age-Groupers being the centre of attention at their races. When I go to Challenge Almere I am looking forward to being part of this experience. This should also be a great event, a great experience, as it will be part of the European Long Distance Championship so will stand out as an event in itself.
Do you have any ‘must-do’ events? Or any you swear you would never do again?
Before I begin my personal account of my own day, it is worth noting that the following day of the duathlon the competitors received an e-mail from the event organiser (Functional Fitness) in regard to the referee’s report of the race. I first saw this posted on facebook and was later contacted in the day via e-mail. Bit of an odd one this, as I have never been contacted by the organiser so quickly and in such a bad mood! It did smell a bit of anger and desperation that their hard work had been scrutinised beyond their ideal outcome. A bit needy to ask for us to back him up & bring us into his war with Triathlon England!
To be 100% honest I didn’t really think about the course being ‘dangerous’ at the time of competing, I just took it for what it was, you have to beat what’s in front of you. There were plenty of potholes on the course. The half road closure was narrow and tight, but I was more concerned about being accidentally caught drafting because it was so tight. I did have to ride outside of the cones on several occasions to over take, but I did this calmly and judged in plenty of time. I checked over my shoulder each time that it was safe for me to go on to the open road. The wind made it trickier in the tight lines.
Where the accident occurred in the race, which is referred to in the report, was in hindsight was probably not very safe on paper. Turning left into narrow on coming traffic was exaggerated by the cross winds, so there was added potential for something to go wrong.
Like I say, at the time of riding, I didn’t feel unsafe or in any danger because of the course. However, this is probably where my own controversy appears. There were some poor riders out there. Before I saw this referee report I was back at my sisters house talking to her about how surprised I was at the poor riding skills on show. I also felt this when I did Ironman UK 2013. I sound like a massive billy big balls here, but perhaps the event organiser underestimated the range of abilities to deem what was safe for some, might not be for others.
Last minute swerving from a pothole was just down to not looking far enough ahead. Give yourself time to adjust and spot obstacles in advance. Your wheels will thank you and the gradual movement around them carries your speed in a straighter line.
There was a lot of changing line, hopping from one side of the road to the other. Perhaps in search of some shelter from the wind, but very unpredictable for riders coming from behind.
What I was surprised by is people’s lack of riding knowledge in terms of carrying speed and momentum through a corner. This is basic stuff, ‘The Racing Line’, carrying momentum through a corner. Dad would always say it’s all about how fast you can come out of a corner that will carry you down the next straight. People don’t use apexes. Riding into a corner and taking it as a 90 degree corner rather than as a bend, that flows through, hit the line and get on the gas when you straighten up. This also makes the corner a lot wider and increases the margin for error.
Cattle grids weren’t an issue. There was enough warning in the race briefing to be aware of the inevitable runners/riders on the course at similar times to take into account that this will happen. I felt the course was signposted adequately enough, but when on a stretch on the bike on my own, I did have to have a look round to make sure there was someone else going my way, I wasn’t lost was I?
I think the referee had a rather large chip on their shoulder to write such a damming report, but I also feel there will be things that the event organiser will amend for future races. It was great event, very beautiful grounds and setting and a flat, fast course that I believe was enjoyed by the majority of participants. It’s a shame this has been the first thing to comment on before my actual personal race report.
At the end of the day, racing of any type will have it’s dangers. There should never be a need to feel you can’t race because you feel the course is too dangerous, you take on what is in front of you. I’ve always viewed my fairly short triathlon experience as a test of myself against a course, a distance or a time. This was no different. You just get your head down and take on the challenges that are arise that day.
I would defiantly do this event again, it is only with hindsight that the safety has been brought into question and taken away from what was actually a fantastic event. Nor do I want to shift the blame on my fellow competitors for the unfortunate accident that happened. I do feel races will bring out that extra animal, that extra 1% that will make you take a corner a bit quicker than you’d usually feel comfortable with, but it also important to ride within your abilities. It’s not just sit on and pedal and the fittest guys wins. A tri bike, on narrow lanes, in a cross wind will be a difficult beast to tame, heightened by the circumstances of a race day red mist.
Play safe kids.
I spent last week on secondment at a radio station in London – LBC. I was working on the Breakfast Show with Nick Ferrari, a similar role I do at Capital FM.
Although LBC is a talk radio station, the premise of producing a radio show is to find something to talk about. The difference between a good and a great show is what and how you talk about that subject.
I last posted about how things around training fall in line with quality training and this is applicable to taking all the things I did at LBC back into my current role.
I’ve been producing breakfast at Capital for 5 years and a change of scenery was good for my professional work also for my Iron distance training.
I didn’t take my bike down with me to London so I had a week concentrating on running and swimming on alternate days. I explored london on my runs, even tripped over Russell Brands German Shepherd while he was out walking in Victoria Park.
It put a bit of impetus back into my training that made me re-fall in love with running again. Although I am still a nerd with numbers and HR, it was good just be somewhere different although I was doing the same thing.
I did think I was having a stinker of a day in the pool. I found a nice local authority leisure centre on Marshall Street in Soho, but it wasn’t until a few sets in I realised it was a 33m pool and my times were off because of the extra distance, not just the treacle water of the big smoke!
It was a great week to be working at LBC. I was involved in a phone in with Mayor of London Boris Johnson, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and also covered the breaking news of Nelson Mandela’s death.
I maybe had a couple of extra pints and over indulged slightly in the food, but I was seeing some old friends so I let myself off & knocked up my signature chicken curry as a thanks to the guys I was staying with for the week.
Now being back into my usual work and usual training it has hit the reset button and given me a nice little bump going into Christmas. Being a triathlete, it is good to have two or even just one back up sports to continue to train in while it’s not possible to do the other one or two. When my knee forced me into a break from running last year I was able to concentrate and make real progress in my swimming. This week is similar having a break from the bike and pushing some real good run training. Triathlon means there is always something you can be doing in the meantime.
Same as producing a radio show, we need to fill the air time with high quality content like we need to fill our training time with quality sessions. We can get on the turbo and do the session we are meant to be doing, but we might as well not bother if we are just going the motions. Every show, every session needs to be worth it considering the limited time we find to train it might as well be the best it can be. There is nothing worse than finishing a session knowing you let yourself off a little bit. It can feel like a long wait until you get to make amends.
Does radio and Iron distance training go hand in hand? A tedious link and who cares, lets just watch that bumbling man from Eton one more time.
Previously I wrote about the monetary cost of doing an Ironman from scratch. The cost of time is also worth noting, but this should be something of a pre requisite when you sign up to do an Ironman. My decision to do IMUK 2013 came when I went to watch IMUK 2012. I wanted that feeling that everyone else was experiencing in Bolton town centre that day. I set aside 10 months of full training. I didn’t join a club of any sort and just trained alone. This really worked for me, but i am in rare position where my working hours mean I can turn my training into almost a second job.
I work 5am to 1pm so have all afternoon / evening to fit my training in. If I joined a club, the training typically begins in the evening so I’d be waiting around all day to go training, and it would finish way passed my 9pm bed time! Training in the afternoon means the pool is relatively quiet and on a nice day, an outdoor ride is sometimes possible.
All together I covered 2001 miles in training, the same distance from my front door to Moscow, or Milan and back. The Pretenders coincidentally had their hit ‘2000 Miles’ shortly after my birthday in 1983, peaking at number 15 in the charts.
I never felt overtrained and managed the load quite well. Time management is very important when it comes to fitting everything around your Ironman training. Like I said, I am lucky with work and also have no kids and with the girlfriend playing hockey on Saturdays means I can always fit in my big ride at a time that works around our lives regardless.
Swim Total: 152 miles or 7 times across the English Channel
Turbo Time: 4 & 1/4 days
Road miles covered: 1600 miles
Total time in the saddle: 7 & 1/2 days
Run Total: 249 miles or 9 1/2 marathons
A total of around 300 hours spent training in 10 months.
That would have earned me £12.9m going by Gareth Bales Real Madrid hourly rate!