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Race Report: Ironman UK 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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For now, I’m eating and chilling!

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16 Weeks – Time To Get Real

The weekend just gone marked 16 weeks until Ironman UK and the countdown begins!
We had the finance’s two sisters and their fellas visiting from Northern Ireland over Easter without their kids, so they were ready to let loose in Manchester. The girls went off looking at wedding dresses so I was left to entertain 2 Irish guys. To the pub, easy win.
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Took the Irish guys clay pigeon shooting

This drags me down with them I’m afraid. Although I could not keep up so was no point in trying, I did have a few more drinks than I usually can cope with and we ate out a lot over the 3 days they were here. Heavy on the wallet and liver. I pencilled in some shooting to break up the drinking – it kinda worked!
I was happy to have a big blow out to be honest. I’d been a bit under the weather twice in close proximity and was fairly fed up of feeling crap. I had an interrupted block of training, having to eventually give in to the cold and take nearly a full week off training. Even when I eased back into it I didn’t feel 100%.
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Lynsey & I Eating our way through the Easter weekend

The Easter weekend marked a turning point in my thinking and approach to IMUK from here on in. No more messing about with late nights out drinking and eating whatever is put in front of me and then everyone else’s leftovers! I can cope with that much in-take when I am slogging the training, but without it to balance things out, I was slipping into a motivational choke hold.
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Always going to be frosty up in The Peaks!

16 weeks pinged up in my calendar as a reminder that now shit needs to get serious. Although my swimming was looking good, my bike training was struggling. Motivation to throw a leg over the Turbo was creeping further down the list and my running was ticking along with the odd niggle beginning to creep in. My calves have pained me for a few weeks now and then my ITB’s have began to flare up after most long runs. Although they calm down reasonably quickly it’s just another problem to manage. Nobody said Ironman training was going to be simple, so you accept it and work around it.
I love getting out on my bike and savour the long rides now the weather is beginning to take an upward turn. I need to get back on the Turbo and hit those sessions as hard as I was before I contracted the dreaded cold. I took a ride over to Leeds to meet my new nephew. Felt good out on the road, didn’t feel my bike fitness had suffered as bad I’d anticipated. Aside, everybody meet Able Riding, healthy and happy. He’s awesome.
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My new nephew Abel, born 16/03/16

Up next is Wilmslow Half Marathon (see how the legs hold up in that one) and then a countdown to Monster Mojo (a half Iron distance race) will see me bring in the odd brick session to get that lovely feeling of running off the bike back in the muscle memory.
Onwards and upwards…

2016 Return to ‘Brand’ Ironman

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.

Recovering From IMUK

As I mentioned in my race report from Ironman UK, it took until the Tuesday after the event to finally let my race sink in. Sunday evening we went straight for dinner in Manchester with my folks and my girlfriend. Monday morning I had to go and collect my bike from T2 and then I attended the awards ceremony at the Reebok Stadium. My parents hung around for the afternoon and then I slept like a baby Monday night.

IMUK Awards dinner - before!

IMUK Awards dinner

Time to look at the Time:
First of all, I recommend attending the awards ceremony the following day. The Kona Rolldown is a great spectacle when you see people claiming their dream spot in Kona, just a few weeks away in October. Pretty decent bacon butties too, as a mass of hobbling athletes move up the queues like the March Of The Penguins.
So it wasn’t really until I had some time to myself on Tuesday afternoon when I finally sat down and looked at my times and the breakdown of splits and also check out some photos. It was great to look back in detail at the race and be able to look at the breakdown of my day.

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My 11:31:50 falls at 119% of the winner of my Age Group (Male 30-34) New Zealands Graeme Buscke with 09:40:55. Results here

Ironman UK is defiantly one of the more challenging courses on the Ironman European circuit. Jeremy Turner’s Strava data from the same event shows the details of the bike and run course:
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Ironman Sweden took place in Kalmar shortly after IMUK and the course was notably faster and this is reflected in the times. Much flatter bike & run course. My Age Group winner going round in 08:52:44. I finished 49th in my Age Group at IMUK and to have achieved that position in Kalmar I would have had to do a 10:32:06! Also the overall winner was 30 mins faster in Kalmar compared to Daniel Hawskworth’s IMUK victory time of 8hr 45min.

IM Kalmar Age Group Results here

I am keen to do another Long Distance Tritahlon in 2014 so I am having a scout around for a nice European event to make a trip out of and use IMUK as a starting point for more Iron distance events.

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Pain:
I got stuck in the bath on Tuesday. I had to roll out. It wasn’t particularly graceful. My hips and calves had seized up almost immediately after the journey home from the race. The only thing on my body that didn’t hurt was my face.

By Thursday I had reached the point where I could manage a walk to the cinema. It took my nearly 40 minutes to walk a mile and I found myself becoming short of breath after too much exertion. Once I began to recover, I did so quite quickly and by the following weekend of the race I was off on holiday and walking and swimming and lying there quite happily.
It was important to take both my mind and body away from Tritahlon. It was good to have a drink and eat loads. I had abstained from alcohol 7 weeks prior to IMUK so that first pint of Guinness went down a treat.

So although I have absolutely no formula or particular advice as to how I recovered, I just listened to my body. I kept everything really light and tried to walk as much as I could.

It was 2 and 1/2 weeks until I did any meaningful exercise. I went back down to uSwim Open Water on the Wednesday. And had a first run back of 4 miles. I then had a coffee bike ride in the sun for 40 miles, really nice and easy.

I have returned with a focus on my running at the minute, trying to get some stamina back in the legs while they are feeling good. I need to develop that running engine and then begin to add some speed later down the line.

I’ve left the Turbo to one side for the time being. I don’t want to hate the trainer before I go into winter where I’ll I’ll be spending most of my time on it. So I am only riding outdoors and when I have the time to enjoy it. I’m also back on the Specialized Road Bike, leaving the aggressive TT bike to one side for the minute. Similarly with swimming. I have always enjoy the open water swimming so I am currently avoiding the pool and the stopwatch for a few weeks.

Now my 1st Ironman is out of the way, my ethos is slowly shifting from Completing to Competing.