One week ago on Sunday 14th July 2019 I undertook my latest challenge: Ironman UK.
The idea to do an Ironman this year came about back in October, as Amy and I entered the Northumberland Ultra Marathon (race report). Given I felt that one of the reasons I struggled in my Lakesman marathon (race report) was my lack of run base it seemed “sensible” to follow up a full winter of ultra training with a summer Ironman!
The weekend started off with some accommodation woes, though at least we were able to get in this time unlike at The Lakesman. On Saturday morning I did a short run with some strides in the morning and was feeling good, though a 20 minute run is not quite the same as an Ironman it put me in a good mindset for the following day.
Next up we headed down to Pennington Flash, the location for the swim and T1. Transition was much larger than any event I have done before, including all bikes being photographed prior to racking, presumably for security reasons, I felt like quite the pro! Once racked, I went through my usual process of ‘walking transition’, memorising where my bike is (useful in a sea of ~2000 bikes), and working out the route through transition.
Next up was T2 set up back in Bolton town centre. This was a much easier affair, just sticking trainers in my red bag and hanging them on my numbered hook. Once again the last task was to walk transition. With this there was nothing left to do but attend the race brief then wait till the following morning.
Sunday 2:45am – The alarm goes off! We drive into Bolton and catch the shuttle bus down to the start (brilliant service). A quick trip into T1 to inflate tires and put my nutrition on the bike before waiting in the inevitable porta-loo queue! That all sorted and it is into my wet suit. Ironman UK operates a rolling start (with the military division getting a head start and starting in the water). Naturally I lined up right at the front in the sub 55 minute area. A few of the guys next to me were formulating a plan to work together, targeting ~48 minutes. I knew this would be a bit fast for me, but decided to try and hold their feet for the start anyway.
6:00am – As AC/DC’s ‘Thunder’ comes to an end the horn goes and we are off, a short run down the pontoon and we are into the water. The small pack of fast guys immediately seem to head off line and too far to the right. I decided at this point not to follow, even if it would have provided a draft benefit for a short while. Very quickly we caught, and swam through the military wave. Pretty easy to avoid them though as there was only 40 in this division. At around 800m into the swim I am at a good pace (~5:00/400m) and settle in for the remaining 3km. At around 1.4km, well on the way to the end of the first lap my hat had started to slip up and was at risk of coming off. After the amount of times they had mentioned the importance of wearing the event swim hat in the briefing I took the decision to pull it off and swim the remaining 400m with the hat in my hand! This unfortunately meant losing the feet of the small group I had found myself in.
The end of the first lap had an exciting ‘Aussie Exit’, where we left the water, ran past the incredible crowd before heading back into the flash for lap two. I took this opportunity to shove one swim hat down my wet suit front, and put the event swim hat back on my head (both rather than acknowledging Amy, Mum, Sarah and Joe…sorry!!). The second lap was chaotic. Even on the outward stretch I had started to catch the back markers, and but the inward stretch I was having to weave in and out of the hundreds of swimmers I had to pass! Battling through the swarm of swimmers and out the water in a quicker time than I had expected in 52:17 and 6th Overall.
T1 was uneventful, other than being complemented on my bike helmet by a volunteer (Louis Garneau P-09 if you are interested)!!
Out onto the bike. I had ridden one loop of the course a few weeks before, so I knew that it was a hilly course. I had reduced the gearing on my bike as far as possible (53/39, 11/28 down to 52/36, 11/32). This was not enough! Having used Best Bike Split to provide accurate time predictions and power plans in the past I had done so again at this race. The AI clearly doesn’t understand the poor quality of Britain’s roads and expected me to be able to continue to put out 200 watts going downhill, over pot holed, off camber corners at -19% gradient. Obviously not possible.
The result of what can only be described as a brutal bike course (apparently the most climbing of any Ironman in the world!!). 8400ft of climbing with an average upward gradient of 8.2% certainly sapped it out of the legs regardless of gearing! Despite losing one of my nutrition bottles at the end of the first lap I managed to hold to my planned normalised power of 200W, thought the variability index of 1.15 was much higher than ideal.
The redeeming feature of the bike course was the incredible support around the route. A particular favourite of mine was the crowd at The Black Dog in Belmont. It felt like being a star at the Tour de France as the spectators covering the road split around me and reformed behind. It may have been the wind under the visor but there was definitely a tear in my eye!
Despite going almost an hour slower than predicted and hoped I finished the bike in a very respectable 6:41:15 and now 96th Overall.
After another uneventful transition (and a distinct lack of compliments), it was onto the run. Typically my weakest leg, I was feeling confident after some large improvements over the last year stemming from a large volume winter build phase plus some more speed work with Elswick Harriers.
My plan for the run was to stick to a strict 9 minutes run, 1 minute walk using the walk breaks to take in nutrition. Setting off a little too quick (4:12/km pace), I reassessed and managed to slow to the goal pace of 4:30/km after my first walk break and CLIF blok. I continued to run strongly through the first 1/2 marathon, going through in 1:43. Clearly the run walk was working, no matter how many times I had to tell spectators it was all part of the plan! Around halfway through the marathon the tough bike course, and tough run course was taking its toll. My run intervals were still strong but I was walking more frequently. Passing my support crew (Amy, Mum, Sarah, Joe, James and Jenny) was a much needed lift twice every lap and I was determined not to walk in front of the deep crowds in the town centre.
Final 200m and I felt elated. It wasn’t as fast as I had hoped for, but this brute of a course had taken everything I had and more. Running down the finishing chute at your first Ironman is a special moment and I was proud to be able to do this knowing I had given it my all. Dropping only 3 places in the run with a 3:52:34 and a final position of 99th Overall, 23rd in my age group.
Needless to say, none of this would have been possible without the huge amount of support from my wife, Amy, who has put up with the 5am alarms, the priority of training over most other things and generally being my rock throughout it all.
Other notable mentions go to:
- Mum (for acting as chauffeur all weekend);
- Sarah, Joe, James and Jenny (for being an excellent cheer-leading crew);
- Mario for being my go to bike mechanic;
- Morgan at Physiohaus for fixing my calves over the winter, and the incredible bike fit – Comfy and aero;
- Precision Hydration for, you guessed it, my hydration products;
- Tailwind Nutrition for my on bike nutrition (and their lovely words of support pre-race)!