Three weeks post Ironman UK, and 3 weeks of doing very little, I lined up at the start of Cleveland Steelman Half Iron Distance race for my third time.
Despite the recent heavy downpours in the region the event was fortunately unaffected and the weather on the day was looking good!
It was announced in the race briefing that wetsuits would be optional. My personal feeling on this is that in this situation (unless a very short swim) “wetsuit optional” = “wear your wetsuit”. The reason for this is that the overwhelming majority of swimmers will save more time by wearing a wetsuit than the time lost removing it in T1. I’d even go so far to say that if you aren’t faster in your wetsuit than without, it means your wetsuit doesn’t fit.
Lining up at the start it was obvious that most people had the same thoughts as me with only a couple of competitors going without the wetsuit. Into the water and lining up for the deep water start and I was feeling ready. In truth I had no idea how the day would unfold. I knew I wouldn’t have lost too much fitness post Ironman, but I also didn’t know if I was fully recovered (recovery times post Ironman seem to be quoted as 2 weeks to 6 months, so very little consensus). I had therefore made the decision to go hard from the gun and see what happened; I’d far rather go too hard and implode than finish with stuff still in the tank (had this been an A race I would have had a different approach).
A fast first 400m gave me clear water with only a couple other competitors alongside or on my feet. Whether due to the pace being too fast, or the thick patch of weeds we swam through, I managed to establish a gap by around 600m at which point I settled in for the remaining 1400m. Keeping steady for the rest of the swim I came out in first place with around 1 minute lead (despite some confusion from the lead kayak as to the route we were to take at the finish)!
Swim time: 26:04 (1:20/100m), fastest overall
T1 went without a hitch:
- Wetsuit off;
- Race number on;
- Helmet on;
- Socks and bike shoes on;
- Run to bike mount line.
T1 Time: 1:08, 7th fastest overall
Out onto the bike and my legs feel great, I’m aero, I’m comfy and I’m flying… Am I going too hard though? Checking my watts I was likely going to blow up if I kept this power going… sitting at 0.92 intensity factor (you can learn all about IF and other power terms here, but simply put riding at an IF = 1 means you’ll be completely spent at the 1 hour mark). I let my power drop gradually over the rest of the bike leg into a more manageable territory, ending with a 0.84 IF.
The bike leg had gone largely without hiccup, though I did drop my chain between the small ring and the frame, thankfully it didn’t get stuck! I also suffered with my lower back tightening up quite significantly as the ride went on. I am not yet sure if this is down to bike position (Cleveland is a rolling course so it’s possible to stay on the aero bars for the majority), or general leg/back tightness…something for the physio to answer!
Coming into T2 I had dropped to 10th place (including any aquabike and relay teams).
I was exceptionally pleased with this bike time (despite the small issues). I had none of the stomach pains I had last time out at this race, and set both my fastest 40km time, and a new PR on this course (by 10 minutes)!
Bike time: 2:34:01 (36km/h), 12th fastest overall
T2 was another uneventful transition; rack bike, helmet off, trainers and visor on and pick up nutrition.
T2 Time: 00:37, fastest overall
The run was always had the biggest question mark over it in this race. I had done a couple of easy runs in between IM UK and this race, all of which felt okay. I had also done one hard parkrun (in the recent sweltering European heat in Germany), which went well, but left me struggling to walk again the following day!
How would my legs hold up today?
The run course at Cleveland Steelman is an ‘interesting’ mix of grass, pot-holed and puddle filled muddy country road, tarmac, and dirt path. I had hoped to run the full half at this event but it became clear very quickly that my legs had other plans. I therefore made the decision to swap to the run/walk plan that had worked so well for me at IM UK.
Even with the run walk strategy, this was a tough slog for me on the day. The sun was out and there was very little wind to aid with cooling. The first 6km or so I was managing to hold a good overall average pace in spite of the walk breaks, but this deteriorated over the following 14km. I had been very aware that this was a possibility in this race and tried to remain focused on the job at hand. Keep moving forward at all costs. At the far turnaround on the second (of two) laps I decided I wasn’t going to walk in the last 5km, it was only a parkrun left and I’ve managed plenty of them! I am unhappy to say I didn’t have the will power to make this happen and I still had a few more (short) walk breaks on the final return leg. In hindsight I have mixed feelings over this, I know that these breaks made no difference to my overall placing, but I am frustrated at myself for not battling through. As endurance athletes I’m sure these internal battles won’t be a stranger to many of you reading this, but it is thought provoking nontheless. In triathlon, and any sport, often the differences at the end of the race are not solely based on physical abilities, but also mental fortitude. This mental strength to ignore the pain and push on is something I’ll have to keep working on.
Despite it not being the run I had maybe hoped for (and certainly not the run I know I am capable of if fresh), it wasn’t all doom and gloom and I finished the run only slightly slower than my debut at this race, and 3 minutes faster than my performance last year.
Run Time: 1:47:45 (5:10/km), 34th fastest overall
Thankfully I was aware of my overall time and put in a ‘sprint’ finish, knowing there was still time to come in under the 4:50 barrier, a course PR by ~7 minutes and ~15.5 minutes faster than last year!
Overall Time: 4:49:34, 14/158 overall, 11/41 Senior Male
This year Cleveland Steelman had been selected as the North East Region Middle Distance Championships. This is a competition run alongside the normal results, only for those registered with British Triathlon and belonging to a North East Club. Amazingly, and unexpectedly I came away with the win in the M25-29 category, making me the “North Eastern Region Male 25-29 Middle Distance Triathlon Champion”!
I can only imagine that it is mouthful titles such as this that drives the worlds best onto greatness as “National Champion” or even “World Champion” certainly rolls off the tongue much easier!
It is important to preface my thoughts on the race overall with the statement that I am proud of my performance on the day, and that there are many positives to take away from the race.
That being said, we as athletes should also reflect on what could have gone better, where things didn’t quite go as well as we had hoped. I think given the lead up to this event I gave it my all, and as a consequence of perhaps going too hard on the bike, suffered on the run. That wasn’t an issue in this race (not being an A race), but something I should be mindful of in future.
All of this in mind, I’m excited for next year…I’ll see you again at the Steelman!