Well I survived… The fact that I have taken a good few days to type this up is fairly reflective of how I felt after this race : Shattered!
The clue should have been in the event description – A tough middle distance triathlon. I guess I misunderstood this, thinking that any race this long would be tough, but oh no. They meant difficult for people used to this sort of insanity, and for the rest of us… read on and find out.
Despite there only being 200 competitors, there was a pre-race briefing the day before. Again this was a useful chance to see the course, the marshals and of course the competition. Perhaps not best for confidence: I was probably the shortest bloke there, and most looked like they had done this sort of distance at least once. My race number summed it all up. 88. As in The Crazy 88 from Kill Bill! Nothing too unexpected was said during the briefing, the only potential shocker was that it was so hot that wetsuits might be banned during the swim, something I was actually in favour of given it is my best discipline and might help me get a bit more of a chance. Oh yeah, and they slipped in that due to some roadworks they had extended the bike course by 3 km. This might not seem significant on top of 90 km, but oh how it did…
Despite one of the warmest evenings I can remember, Neptune was obviously favouring the others as wetsuits were the name of the game, so my sister had to run back to the car to grab mine! The first thing I noticed was the other bikes. Now I quite like mine, but it would be fair to say it was one of, if not the cheapest one there. And at just over £250, there were some which cost at least 20 times more! Some of the wheels alone on those bad boys would have paid for my entire kit and seasons racing. But I digress..
Transition was on the grass, which was also a new one as I had been expecting to use the car park nearby. No biggie, but it meant that towels, socks, and basically everything got covered in grass and made a mess everywhere. I was in a bit of a rush as I only realised the night before that although my wave was not until 8.30, I had to have everything set up by 7.45. Lesson learned: read your briefing earlier! Fortunately it all went fairly well, and I had some time to calm down before the start, and to watch the end of Wave 1’s Swim.
Swim – 1.9 km – Time 44.18 (mins)
First thoughts upon getting in the water – this is warm. As in: like a bath. I was pretty amazed wetsuits were still on, but there you go. There must have been around 120 people in my wave, which was one of the larger ones I have done. I am normally one to go out wide, but clearly here so was everyone else and I somehow found myself pretty much in the middle at the front. Not a great idea, as the swim sharks then ran me down a bit to get past, but it made sure I got going! Other than that the swim was pretty uneventful, except for one moment when a guy who was built like The Rock had clearly started far too fast and burned out at the first buoy and for some reason had switched to breaststroke. Not expecting this so early I managed to take an elbow to the face for my efforts in swimming past, which was a bit disorienting, but fortunately there was far too much adrenaline to slow down.
My target time was somewhere between 40 to 45 mins, and I actually got out of the water closer to 42 minutes, but someone obviously was having a laugh when designing the course, and put a 200 metre or so uphill slope from the lake into T1, so that accounts for the extra time. Believe me, after staggering out of a lake in a wetsuit, up a slippery grass hill, you do not run like Usain Bolt!
T1 – 4.13
At this part of the race I was still pretty happy with my timing. The warm water meant stripping off was not too bad – my fingers actually worked on the zip rather than acting as useless ice-lollies stuck to my palms – and I even had time for a quick glug of drink. I did lose a few seconds having to nip back to get my GPS watch for the next stage, but it was well worth it to know where I was.
Bike – 4.15.19
The first half of the bike course was still pretty good. I had some energy, and time to enjoy what was, to be fair, an absolutely stunning course around the Warwickshire & Worcestershire countryside. The only early problems were firstly my stupid bike bag, which for the second race in a row came loose and resulted in me needing to stop to tie it back on properly. I won’t be using it again in sprints (not enough time to change a tyre) but given the distances here it was needed, or a very long walk back! The second was me still getting used to the bike itself, and getting stuck going up an early hill in the wrong gear. Hard to explain to non-bikers, but basically imagine driving up a hill in 5th from a stationary start, and you get the idea. Amazingly I made it up without stopping, although it cost me a couple of places, and hurt like hell.
The race started to go downhill just before halfway, or perhaps that should read as uphill. It turns out the extra 3 km they had kindly added meant a huge new hill at around 40 km, which was an absolute killer. About 10 seconds in I knew there was no way I would be riding it, and had to get off and start pushing. The guy about 5 yards in front took one glance and looked absolutely relieved as he stepped off to do the same. As did most of the people behind me. In fact I hardly saw anyone actually ride this beast, and this was one of the first times I have genuinely wished I had (rather than just envied those with) a full carbon bike. It was also the middle of nowhere, and whilst it was a road, I don’t remember seeing any cars or non-competing people in the whole section. I will be blunt, in that this destroyed my legs. As soon as I got back on I had cramp in my right quad, but with no chance to stop had to struggle on, and fortunately there was then a long downhill that I could freewheel on whilst the pain died down.
The second loop of the course seemed a lot longer, and by that time I was getting near the back of the field. A major downside to being in the last starting wave. At around 70 km there was a drink stop in a layby. I first passed this around 30 km on the first lap, and was pretty impressed at being able to grab a bottle without stopping. Bearing in mind how hot it was though, I had now shotgunned the best part of 4 drinks bottles and 5 gels, and was basically running on empty. I decided this time it would be better to stop and take two drinks bottles, but at that exact moment got terrible cramp in my left calf, and despite frantic braking could not slow down enough, which resulted in a fantastic, slow-motion, Starsky & Hutch style crash into a box of drinks, scattering them everywhere!
Once again though, the cramp receded almost as fast as it came on, and I was able to pedal away slightly sheepishly. Unfortunately it was not long before I was back up against the same dreaded hill again, and this time it was even worse, at 80 km and with even less energy than before. It must have taken a good 10 minutes to push myself and the bike to the top, plus another few to psyche myself up for the final stretch. Somehow I did make it back, and through the gates of the hall. The final test was a 1 km climb to transition, on a single track road full of visiting cars. After 92 km I was too tired to be nice to them, but also too stubborn to get off and go on foot, so I somehow managed to keep going, riding into T2 like I had both won the lottery and been in a car crash all at the same time.
T2 – 4.18
This was one of those times where you question your sanity in continuing. I had only ever run one half-marathon – a road race through central Birmingham – whereas this was about to be an off-road trail run, with plenty of hills… On the hottest day of the year… After the toughest bike ride of my life! For some reason I carried on, and again was amazed I did this in less than 5 minutes.
Run – 2.46.43
What can I say about this? I was trying to think how you could recreate the conditions without having to do the first two parts of the race. Perhaps a spot of crocodile wrestling to start off with, followed by a few rounds with Mike Tyson to soften you up, a few Jager bombs to disorientate you, and an hour or two in the sauna for the dehydration. And then start a half-marathon. At least that was how I felt. About 20 yards out of transition a guy was stood with a hose, and I am with Boris on this, that there is nothing wrong with someone shooting you with a water cannon. Bliss!
After around 1 km of the race I was faced with the legendary ‘Heartbreak Hill’, a monster of a grass slope, perhaps longer than the bike one and just as tough at this point in the race. The below picture does not really do it justice. Perhaps it was how late on I was, or maybe the heat, but I could not see anyone running this part. After staggering up, and staggering down on the rutted hill, the second section involved a far longer slope, which although less steep, had probably the same overall elevation and took far longer to traverse. The third and final part of the course was the easiest loop, but no less uneven ground, making it difficult to pick up any pace at all.
The second lap was a total blur, the main thing I remember was wondering where the promised energy gels and food was at the drink stations. After having only eaten a bowl of porridge, a banana and some malt loaf all day, my stomach was starting to eat itself (I later found out I lost half a stone during the race). In fact I still don’t know the answer to that one. Most of the marshals I passed looked smilingly at me saying “nearly there now” and “this must be your last lap” and then quickly turned to sympathy when I murmured that I had one more to go. As I said in my last blog, I had to really stay with my mantra in this lap, with Duke reminding me over and over again – “No Pain”.
At the start of the final lap I really felt like calling it in. Was it worth the agony for this? One of the marshals shouted to me that there was only an hour of the race left, so I needed to motor if I was going to finish in the allotted time (yet another reason why not to be in the last wave). Then a bit of magic, a marshal who I am sure had already asked me twice before if I was on my final lap managed to offer me half an energy bar. I have no idea what it was as it did not touch the sides, but it may well have been what got me through. I do have a confession here, as I was running in last place, and managed to agree with one of the other marshals to skip out a bit of the course – given I did 3 km extra on the bike I did not miss 1 km on the run – as I was unsure I had enough time to do it. After the second section I was told I had 20 minutes to finish the last couple of k’s, and somehow had to dig out the reserves to get through…
I was literally the last person of the day to cross the line, although there were some people from earlier waves who took longer to complete the course. At that time there were still a fair few of people around, and the support through to the finish was amazing, and I even managed a sprint down the chute. Funnily enough all I can remember thinking was I wonder if that ice cream van is still open (it was not). So I managed to have an even better alternative in a big hug with my wife & sister instead. Were it not for the fact I had no fluid left in my body from the heat I may well have cried, but as it was I was happy to just collapse and soak in the fact I had just completed a half-iron distance triathlon!
Build Up & Admin ***** (out of 5)
Could not fault it. This was a great race to get involved in, and since registering at the back-end of last year and joining the Facebook page, there have been regular updates on everything from photos of the course, to the sponsors and obviously the usual of self-deprecating banter from the competitors. Compared to other races I have taken part in this made for a great atmosphere and felt much more welcoming to be part of. I also managed to get down for a practice swim session with the main local tri club a few weeks earlier; again a great chance to scope out the place and meet a of the friendly competitors.
Course & Scenery ****
As mentioned this was great looking, from the perfect lake (well at least before it was filled with neoprene clad warriors) to the scenic countryside, and even the run was a great looking course, spoiled somewhat by the fact I was so tired I could barely see! If anything I have to take a star off for being too tough, as in that heat I am genuinely amazed I made it thought without a hospital visit.
Atmosphere & Support *****
For such a small event it was incredibly well organised. There must have been nearly 50 marshals, if not more, for less than 200 competitors. There was also all the families of competitors, plus the normal visitors to the hall – who must have been horrified at the bunch of sunburned, barely dressed zombies staggering their way around the luscious grounds they had come to see – but everyone joined in and cheered us on.
I do owe a particularly massive thank you to my wife and sister for supporting me. My sister Lucy came all the way from London, despite the fact I hardly managed to actually see her during the race, but giving me loads of support right to the finish. And my wife Angela, who has put up with my training for the last 6 months for this event, drove me on the day, took photos, cheered me on and generally was amazing! Thank you both so much xx
My Performance **** Total Distance 115 km. Overall time 7.54.57 placing 166 out of 191 competitors.
Might be a bit generous? Well, I considered giving myself five stars just for finishing this nightmarish course! The first half was decent, with a good time on the swim and transitions, but the bike course killed it for me. As for the run, I had little left in my legs, plus the remnants of earlier cramps, and then the heat to deal with. Apparently the run course got up to 35 degrees C during the afternoon, which quite frankly for this country is insane. But I still did it.
But the big question is would I do it again? I had even wondered before this race if I could one day do a full on Ironman. To be honest I am not sure now, and whilst I would wholly recommend this event for the above mentioned reasons, if I do another 70.3 it will be something different. A distinct memory I have now is from the middle leg of the run, when all I could hear in my head was Apolo’s voice at the end of Rocky saying “Ain’t gonna be no rematch”, and Rocky saying “Don’t want one”. And given that I won this race that leaves me as the Avenger, and no one can take that away from me now.