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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…

Switching from Ironman France to Ironman UK

As I mentioned previously, I have decided to switch my 2016 Ironman plans from Nice, France to Bolton, UK.
I did an old fashioned ‘Pro’s & Con’s List’ (see below) and it just made sense when I went on a 4 hour bike ride to argue the toss with myself. I got off the bike, still in my kit and paid the £50 transfer fee.
I signed up to Ironman France with all the best intentions. I wanted to do an EPIC Ironman race, one of the iconic races that is on the calendar. A real tester, an honest course. A swim in the Med, an alpine pass on the bike and a stinking hot seafront run – I knew if this were to be my last Ironman for a while I would be going out in style in a race that would really hurt me.

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So why am I now back at Ironman UK, the site of my first Ironman back in 2013? As you can see below the ‘Ironman France Con’s’ list is the longest list!
I was stressing myself out with questions about gearing and bike set up. There are long standing arguments all over the internet about using a road bike vs a TT bike at IM France. I was looking at a brief trip to do a course recce, but this wasn’t going to be possible.
The major problem came when the European Football Championships were announced and Northern Ireland are based in Nice from the same weekend. This naturally meant the flights from Manchester and Liverpool to Nice doubled as well as the accommodation – air BnB etc all saw the chance to cash in alongside the football.
Ironman France Pro’s:
Epic Course
Tough bike ride to play to my strength
Opportunity to travel for a race
Guaranteed weather
Ironman France Con’s:
Price of flights inc bike haulage
Need to hire a bike box
Hire Car in France
Price of accommodation
Sea Swim (proven not too good in the sea at Challenge Weymouth!)
Paying for Lynsey to be there
Extended time off work
Ironman UK Pro’s:
Local, able train on the course
20 minute drive to start line
Known entity
More family & friends able to watch

 

Ironman UK Con’s:
Done the race before (albeit a slightly altered course)
I believe I’ve made a sensible decision and with both courses spitting out similar finish times I’m still opting for a tough course and a long day of racing. I’m over the idea of having to do an epic race (for now). I just want to do an Ironman and I forgot how lucky I was to have one on my doorstep!

‘Will It Make Me Go Faster?’

I celebrated my 1 year Ironman anniversary last week. I say ‘celebrated’, I mean I had one of those moments when you see a date on the calendar or hear it said that you think – ‘I swear today is something? Is it someones birthday? Girlfriend anniversary’. It was just the 4th August ringing a bell and what a significant date I spent the majority of 2013 working towards.

That Ironman was very much about completing the course. This year on 13th September at Challenge Almere I am switching focus a little more to actually setting a target and doing more than just completing the distance.

Cole T50 Lite Carbon Wheels

Cole T50 Lite Carbon Wheels

It’s a funny old sport Long Distance triathlon in that the sky is the limit when it comes to ‘buying speed’. I have slowly built up a good shed of add-ons that will hopefully serve one purpose – make me go faster.

The Slice with Race wheels

The Slice with Race wheels

Before IMUK I invested in the TT bike, my pride and joy. This year I have added bits and pieces to turn this into the bike I want to race on. I added carbon wheels, carbon pedals, I’ve bought an aero helmet, proper triathlon shoes to speed up transitions and the garmin heart rate monitor for a nerdier take on progress analysis. All of the above were bought after asking myself ‘will it make me go faster?’ If not, I can’t afford to waste money on aesthetics or funky gadgets that don’t add to my actual race performance.

Giro air Attack & Bont Tri Shoes

Giro air Attack & Bont Tri Shoes

Ben Hunt-Davis writes and talk about this a lot. He’s a British Olympic gold medallist in rowing and the 8 man team constantly asked the question ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’. If not, why are they doing it? They even took this to the extreme of missing the Sydney Olympics opening ceremony as attending it wasn’t going to make the boat go faster.

British Cycling Performance Director Dave Brailsford talks a lot about ‘Marginal Gains’ and this has been the foundations that so many things have been won out of the Manchester based team. Have a look at the video here, where he explains what he means about these Marginal Gains.

There is also something money can’t buy – shaving the legs! To do or not? I’ve never done it, but if you watch the video below from the Specialized research and development team, it might sway me! It’ll equate to around 4 minutes in an Ironman. Watch this space if I come back with the smooth pins, the girlfriend is sooooo not up for this idea!

Racing the London Olympic Course

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

2014 – Representing GB at Challenge Almere

2013 was a massive year for me and I only did one race – Ironman UK. A lot of people talk about their ‘A’ race but this was my only race. I trained 10 months solid for it, aiming to complete the challenge and end the year an Ironman before I turned 30.

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Before then, I’d done a sprint triathlon in Wilmslow & Erewash. Not much of a triathlon CV, and actually quite rich of me to refer to myself as a ‘triathlete’. I trained as a triathlete but my lack of competition made me a full time wannabe. I’ve done 3 tri’s in 3 years of taking up the sport in 2011 – 2 sprint & 1 Ironman.

I put so much emphasis on the project of Ironman 2013 I couldn’t focus on anything else, I was besotted with the idea, it consumed me and my entire year. I am by no means saying I didn’t enjoy last year, I loved it. I was racing against myself every session, competing with my last performance, comparing myself to myself on a weekly basis.

The first of my three Triathlons so far

The first of my three Triathlons so far

2014 is going to be slightly different. I’ve already entered some races and I want to do well in them. This year is much more about competing than just completing. I want to be a ‘triathlete’. When people at work ask ‘when is your next race?’ I don’t want to say an event that is 9, 8, 7 months away. I think racing keeps you sharp, it’s social, you see how you stack up against other people. I was just a novice and scared of doing anything that deviated from my IMUK plan.

Proud to be representing!

Proud to be representing!

So my big news is that my time at Ironman UK fell at 119% of the winner of my age group. This meant that I had a qualifying time for the ETU Long Distance European Championship 2014. I’ll be representing Great Britain at Age Group level at Challenge Almere on September 13th 2014. A complete accident if I’m honest.

If I had slowed down to high five my family on the finishing shoot I probably wouldn’t be going to this event. I didn’t have this goal in mind at any single moment of the build up or the event itself. I blew away my predicted finishing time at IMUK which was enough for me, so be selected in the first qualifying stage for the ETU Champs is a proud moment. It also an outstanding testament to my coach Paul Savage who took me from that Sprint Triathlon in 2012 to GB Age Grouper in less than a year.

Caoch Paul Savage & Myslef at IMUK Awards

Coach Paul Savage & myself at IMUK 2013 Awards

So Challenge Almere is my ‘A’ race and I wanted to try and pencil in a race at least once a month this year, so my 2014 calendar currently stacks up like this:

February – MTB Winter Classic Race at Cannock Chase (Bit of fun in the mud)
March – Wilmslow Half Marathon (Spring running focus)
April – Newby Hall Duathlon (English National Champs)
May – Wilmslow Trithlon (Returning to where it began)
June – A few ideas but nothing booked in – Nottingham Triathlon, Bala, Grafam, Pentrith
July – Holidaying in France following the Tour De France
August – Liverpool Triathlon (British Champs)
September – Challenge Almere (European Long Distance Champs)

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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Run

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.