Category Archives: Racing
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.
Once Challenge Weymouth was out of the way, there was very little reason to do any training. I took a fortnights holiday travelling Croatia with my girlfriend Lynsey and we did plenty of walking and sea swimming but nothing that constituted any kind of real exercise like Ironman training would.
It was great. 3 large meals a day, a few beers most nights -I didn’t say no to anything and it was amazing. I put on nearly 2 stone in 3 weeks having absolutely buried myself up until crossing the line at Challenge Weymouth I was owed some down time.
Lynsey was great. She’d suffered a long summer of my training regime and this was a late summer holiday for us both. When we got back it was tough to find any reason to put myself through the 5am turbo sessions and long swim sessions before work. It’s amazingly disappointing to see how quickly the fitness can vanish and how long it takes to build back up. The ‘Ironman Blues’ mindset that gets banded about following a big race was fully getting a hold of me. The routine was all gone. I had my weekends back but nothing really to do with them. It was a slow return to training but it needed to happen and snap out of it. I was in freefall where anything but swim, bike and run could fill my time. I met with my coach Paul Savage for a few beers and we decided it was time for me to crack back on with some kind of base fitness work to get me into a position to start 2016 not totally from scratch. Paul was recently back from Kona and hearing his stories of this epic race reignited my fire and I literally started the next day and haven’t looked back.
I did the 10k Leeds Abbey Dash in November as a little project to work towards, just to give me an excuse to get the trainers on. I stripped and rebuilt the mountain bike so I can still have some fun on the bike this winter now those wintery weekend roads aren’t so forgiving on the road bike. The pool is always there and with the long steady sessions to keep me moving its a good time to focus on technique and get some easy mileage in on a regular basis. Along with an extra focus on off-season stretching and core work (which I’ve never really taken any notice of!) I’m enjoying starting to feel fit again and doing it on a much more social basis. I have been riding with friends rather than to a specific time or distance or effort. There is no underestimating the time investment training for an Ironman takes but thats because you have to respect the distance. I was in the best shape of my life going into Challenge Weymouth and now my energy turns to maintaining some nice winter fitness and trying to enjoy the process at the same time. I don’t really know what 2016 has in store just yet. I’d like to race more and do races that I’ve not done before. Tick off a few classics and cast the net a bit further afield. This year has been great, but having my A race so late in the year felt like a long time to wait.
Thats my ‘A’ race done and I’m back from a three week holiday travelling Croatia and eating – lots! But how did Challenge Weymouth go? Firstly it was great to once again represent GB Age Groupers at the European Long Distance Triathlon Championship and our team manager Tim Whitmarsh was great and bringing all the other GB athletes together in Weymouth. 4th in my Age Group
Starting on the stoney beach of Weymouth Bay, it was a 2 lap swim course in the sea. As it turned out, 2 very different laps. I had my goggles knocked off in the first 200m or so, but thankfully I kept hold of them and surprised myself at how quickly I got them back on.
The first lap felt ok, I held a reasonable effort and felt I was moving quite comfortably through the water. Out for the Australian exit and it was totally different swim – the water had become choppy and I swallowed a lot of it – I didn’t feel too great coming out of the water, a bit sickly and a touch off the pace.
Transition 1 went smoothly and I was off out into the Dorest Jurassic Coast on the bike. I soon began to feel good and respected the early climb that comes after 5 miles. This a two lap race and thankfully I had overcompensated in my training for hills so I knew the 5, 500ft of climbing over the course was going to be manageable. The course was undulating but it was possible to spend the majority of of time on the aero bars. I had a very solid bike ride, registering one of the fastest bike splits in my Age Group and moving myself up the field to level out the time lost in the swim. My nutrition plan worked well on the bike and the time passed relatively quickly. It got a bit lonely out there and I had to keep my mind busy. It took away from the fatigue and passed a few miles. I tried to name every motocross I’ve ever raced on. Then I even tried to name every girl I’ve ever kissed – but that only took about 5 minutes! The bike course was scenic enough, but the country roads made for a very solitary time and with nobody in front or behind I had to be confident I was even on the right course. Luckily I did a recce drive around the course the day before so I had a vague idea where I was headed! Finally back into T2 and I got my first glimpse of my friends and family which was a big boost that I needed.
I came out of T2 feeling woeful. Perhaps I had gone too hard on the bike. I’d stuck diligently to my nutrition plan that was tried and tested in weeks of long ride training, but this short stint to the first aid station had all the wrong signs. I perhaps went off a touch quick, but I knew pretty early on that this marathon was going to be a long day of survival. I walked through this first aid station, had a quick word with myself and took on some more nutrition. Within moments I felt better, but by no means ‘good’. My game plan amended slightly, I was holding a steady pace but walking every aid station and constantly cooling myself down. It was getting a bit warmer in the afternoon and running through the crowds of ice cream eating, pint drinking and bbq-ing family and friends was agony! 4 and 1/2 laps up and down the promenade, thats just broken down into 4 x 10k’s which is ok isn’t it? The last one was fairly brutal and probably my undoing. I just wanted it to be over with. I began ignoring aid stations and just focusing on getting to the line as quick as I could and in whatever state that would be. My last 3 miles were the quickest of my run and not out of the coaching manual. I crossed the line 5th in my Age Group and spent the following 2 hours in the medical tent. I had put everything into that and I can’t have any complaints that I didn’t give it absolutely everything I had. It was a tough day and I am proud to have battled through it. I’ve not been to that sort of place before and I had to dig deep in that final 5 or 6 miles to pull through it.
I had an amazing support crew from all my family, especially Mum and Dad and girlfriend Lynsey as well as my coach Paul Savage (physio-coach.co.uk). The days leading up to an Ironman can be odd. Probably different for everyone, but I go very quiet and want to do anything but talk about the race or the weather etc, I drag out little jobs to fill time. I get a bit short and sharp with folks and the littlest things not being triple checked can keep you up at night. They are great to have around and do everything to help me and that is so important even if thats leaving me alone! It’s an individual sport, but the folks in the background make it all possible and on every single lap of that run just seeing them was the highlight of my day and massively kept me going.
Here is the race report I did for a rather disappointing day at Liverpool Triathlon, the Standard Disatnce British Championship
Tri Liverpool Standard Distance was a mixed bag. It’s only the second standard distance triathlon I’ve done with last year’s London Pru Health being the other. I feel I have unfinished business with this race format!
At Liverpool I swam 25:26 which is about right for me. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my swimming, but if I can come out without having lost too much time and not too tired, then I’m satisfied.
The bike is where I try to make my biggest gains. I’ve always felt confident in my riding and my current training has been backing this up better than ever. However, this is where the ‘mixed bag’ element comes in! It was a comedy of errors really, but it didn’t feel that funny at the time.
I hit the mount line, threw my leg over and my spare tube fell out of my pocket on the other side. Stop #1 to pick that up. My wet feet slipped off my already fastened on shoes and dragged a bare foot along the docks asphalt. That stung in the shower later on.
I eventually got going and it felt so hard. I started thinking it was one of those days my legs just didn’t want to turn. I was going nowhere fast and it was costing a lot of effort. I glanced down and my rear brake caliber had jammed on. Stop #2. I prised the pads off the rim and got going again, the unforgiving clock always ticking.
I got to the final turning point on lap 1 and when I applied the brakes, the rear brake stayed locked on again! Coming out of the turn, I pulled to the inside, off the racing line and released the brake once more – Stop #3 was my breaking point in a different sense of the word. I unclipped the rear brake, wound the adjustment right off and never touched the rear brake again.
I rode in anger, affectively a 30k Time Trial with nothing to lose. I came off the bike with a 1:06:35 next to my name, my trump card had not come to fruition, I felt a 60min ride was possible. With my folks making the early trip up from Nottingham I was duty bound to enjoy the day and still give it my all.
I came out of t2 feeling good, my Garmin watch struggling to find any signal for my entire run, I had to work totally off feel. I didn’t know what pace I was running or how far I had to go, so I just kept the legs turning over at constant rate. Perhaps I have been a slave to the watch too often so to judge this pace so well was reassuring. Then I ran passed the finish line chute, having to double back on myself at the end of lap 2! Schoolboy. I ran 38:33.
At the end of the day, things didn’t work out perfectly and there is only myself I can be annoyed at. Saying that, what positives can I take? My swim was solid, my run was better than hoped having not specifically trained for a 10k for a long time. I need a new way of securing my spares. I need to really concentrate at the short moments of a triathlon that require concentration. It’s odd how irrational and illogical your brain starts working – running passed the finish chute is unforgivable.
All these little errors are part of the constant learning process and can be easily remedied before Challenge Weymouth in little over 6 weeks time. Finally, a massive shout to my ever supportive Mum and Dad. They’ve racked up some miles over the years watching me do various things like motocross, mountain biking and rugby and take it all in their stride. Even if they’re still getting used the shaven legs look, it adds 10% knowing they’ve got my back every time. Nice one guys.
It’s been good to finally get outside and even throw in the odd spring event recently. It’s been difficult to chase those cycling miles over the winter, so I’ve taken the opportunity to mix up the riding and also get the all important bike fit done before the race season rolls around.
I’ve had the mountain bike out quite a lot over winter and used this as a good alternative to the turbo trainer. The Mountain bike works you hard and has transferable skills for bike handling and is much more accessible in all weathers. Now it’s a bit more bearable to get out on the road bike and clock up some miles in the Peak District hills, it means I’ve not had to sacrifice too many weekends to the indoor turbo sessions. It’s great having North Wales and The Peak District on the relative doorstep of South Manchester.
The time spent not racing was a good chance to get the TT bike dialed in and set up for the season ahead. I had a great bike fit session at Paul Savage’s (www.Physio-Coach.co.uk), tweaking my position to get the best possible fit. With my main races being the British Middle Distance Championship at Bala and the European Long Distance Championship in Weymouth we reached a set up that isn’t too aggressive and means I can comfortably stay on the aero bars for long periods. It’s a thorough process and an important one to get right.
Getting the bike fit done before the season kicks in means I have plenty of time to get used to it and familiar with the set up as each Mountain bike, road bike and TT bike are all slightly different. I won’t have to touch this again now so everything is on point and ready to go racing.
My road bike is an old Specialized Allez Sport that I don’t mind running into the ground and is heavy. Once I switch to the TT bike (Cannondale Slice) it feels so slick and light and easy to go quick on. The training effect of the old tank-like Spesh is actually a great benefit when I swing a leg over the Slice. I don’t think I’d be allowed another bike even if I did want to upgrade, as when she reads this, I’ll have to admit that I never did actually sell the mountain bike!