When you enter a race in the UK you are never quite sure what the weather might throw at you and true to form this race was definitely different. Whilst doing a long ride the previous weekend I had donned almost complete winter gear – jacket, knee warmers, ear warmers and waterproof socks so thought that the bad weather may continue and I would be preparing to add layers throughout. The weather warmed up significantly during the week and it was clear that by Sunday it would definitely be scorchio with the forecast expecting the hottest day of the year. Only one person at the pre race briefing was not bothered by this and it turned out he was doing the swim leg in a relay team – the easy bit I think. As per usual I had prepared perfectly for this race by only tapering for 2 days and fitting aerobars on my bike the weekend before. I had decided to also use my usual ironman nutritional plan of a pack of jelly babies, some energy drink and make it up as I go along
Race day started with a 3am alarm call and had my traditional breakfast of a can of Red Bull. Claire and I had stayed at her Grandma’s house 20 minutes down the road and had an eerie drive through the fog to race headquarters at Sandy Balls (yes it really is called that). I had racked the day before and boarded the bus to the swim start with other competitors (the spectators had a bus later on). Spoke to David Maslen on the bus and he admitted his training had not been perfect but was hoping the experience of doing the race before would see him through.
On arrival at the lake it was obvious we wouldn’t be starting on time at 5:30. Thick fog still lingered and it meant we couldn’t see any of the buoys for the 3 lap course. Richard, the race organiser appeared calm as he casually delayed the start whilst they shifted the buoys closer together for a 4 lap swim. The swim was therefore delayed by about 25 minutes but we couldn’t wait any longer (as cut off at the end of the day was dusk) so we all waded into the surprisingly warm water in the fog. I had cunningly brought my tinted goggles ready for the low sun of an early swim start so I could see approximately nothing in the low visibility conditions. At least I knew how many buoys to count but was pretty reliant on the train of people in front to guide me around. The fog never really lifted and when your eyes are 3cm off the waters surface you can only see about 10 meters in front. Still, Mr Snugg was swimming at a decent pace and I was able to draft him the majority of the way. Unfortunately, on my last lap he went left around a group of swimmers we were lapping and I went right. I promptly lost him, reached the final buoy and continued straight on towards where I thought the swim exit was. After what seemed like a couple of minutes I hadn’t reached the shore and was lost. I stopped, treaded water, and removed my goggles but could see no swimmers, no shore, no buoys or anything. I was also unsure which direction I had just come from as it all looked the same. I didn’t know what to do at this point until I heard what sounded like clapping so swam towards that with my head out of the water and goggles off (backtracking to avoid a 5thlap). Finally the swim exit emerged and I exited the water, a bit annoyed at myself for getting lost and losing time. I soon forgot that as I waved to Claire and my parents whilst checking my watch. 55 minutes was pretty good so I knew the swim was short. Still, no complaints as the organisers had to reorganise the swim course at such a last minute they could not be expected to get it exact.
After much faffing in T1 I ran out of transition to leap aboard my trusty steed just past the hour mark. At this point the fog suddenly cleared in front of as the suns rays finally burnt it off ready to burn all the triathletes for the rest of the day. The aid stations looked about an hour apart if I was doing a 6 hour bike split so my plan was to get through 2 bottles of energy drink every hour and then refill (they were serving lemon flavour Infinit which I had never tried before but thought I should be fine based on my preference to try as many things new on race day as possible). There were about 70 people doing the Boskman 2/3 distance race and I started chasing them down as well as a few Forestmen and it felt like I overtook quite a few on the first lap. I was doing well but realised my next mistake of the day as I reached the first steep climb (the course is generally undulating with just a couple of steep kickers but in no way a fast course). Having put road bars on my time trial bike recently I had entirely failed to index the gears which meant I couldn’t get into my easiest gear (or the second easiest either) so had to grind up the hill at a not very impressive 6mph and a cadence of what felt about 20 – hard work indeed. I was at least able to make it up without having to get off and walk so once I was around the first of 3 laps I knew I’d be OK. After ticking off the first lap I was slowing a bit but still averaging about 19mph so was pretty pleased with this. You have to stop for drinks rather than picking them up on the fly so I got a short rest at every stop. The warm Infinit was not overly tasty and I was struggling to keep drinking it at my preset pace. I did manage to get the majority of it down me however and supplemented it with an occasional Jelly Baby as I saw fit. I got a real lift on the second lap as Claire was waiting at the side of the road taking photos. She came past me in the car a few minutes later and so I knew I would get a bit more support. As I came through the second lap I saw my parents wisely sitting in the shade so gave them a wave and continued on my third lap as all the Boskmen turned off to start their run. Despite the field thinning I was still enjoying myself but the sun was really beating down now and I knew the run would be hard. My back had started hurting a bit and I was finding it hard to stay aero but knew it wasn’t far to go so I dug in and tried to keep moving at a decent pace. Finally I arrived back at Sandy Balls with just under 7 hours total time on the clock – ride time 5:55 and handed my bike over to the friendly marshal before running into the change tent to put my trainers on.
Briefly chatted to the other competitor in T2 and found out he was also doing the double in August. I would end up trading places for the next 5 hours with him in an epic tortoise versus tortoise battle. On leaving T2 I immediately knew this was to be a tough afternoon. Whilst cycling it was sometimes difficult to judge the heat but once slowed to a run speed the 30C temperature was really hitting home. This was the sort of heat you get in a Euro IM and my thoughts of a 4:30 marathon disappeared within the first half mile. The run consists of an out section involving 2 large valleys and then 3 laps of the run course each lap containing another 2 big hills. From the first hill I knew I would have to walk every one and with only about 6 miles in total on the run course in the shade I made sure I kept drinking masses of water. Every aid station I would drink more water/energy drink and fill my bottle so I could sip water and throw it over myself. After the first turn around I saw Pete Newton and David Maslen about a couple of miles behind me and knew I would have a tough time holding them off. Both are better runners than me, especially Pete who would probably be 40 minutes faster in a straight marathon. I decided immediately that I would have no chance in racing them and knew not to even try. If I stayed ahead then so be it. Whilst completing my first lap I saw Claire again and gave her a kiss as I passed. The chap running along side me asked if he could have a kiss as well and whilst Claire declined her uncle offered but my fellow runner was less keen on this option. In the boiling heat I could see most people were fading rapidly and David looked to be suffering but Pete continued to reel me in and overtook on the final lap. Whilst picking up my final wristband I heard the England vs Germany score and was lifted by the knowledge that I hadn’t had to watch us being soundly beaten. On the walk up the final hill I overtook the guy I had met in T2 many hours earlier and on reaching the top decided to run the last mile back to make sure I kept my position. I felt surprisingly good during this final mile actually managing my fastest mile of the whole marathon and turning in to Sandy Balls for the final time I was cheered in by my parents and plenty of supporters – I didn’t even mind the sound of a vuvuzela for once. Crossing the line in just under 11:49 felt fantastic and I was surprised to have stayed under 5 hours for the marathon. The finish area was excellent and I was able to get a beer and sit watching the other competitors finish.
A very satisfying race completed, I was rewarded by finishing in 19thfrom 130 finishers only half an hour off my PB in very challenging heat on a tough course. 25thin the swim can be improved by not getting lost. 15thon the bike might be better by practising long rides on aero bars and checking all my gears work beforehand whilst 28thon the run is good for me and moving in the right direction. By drinking a huge amount of fluid on the run I stayed well hydrated and felt pretty good afterwards so was able to resume full training 2 days later.
Pete finished in an impressive 14thplace for a debut ironman whilst David finished half an hour behind me in 36thplace.