Second half-Ironman in the books! Man, what a race – I don’t really know where to begin!
Let’s do this chronologically, as it’s probably the easiest thing to do. There are two quotes that I have used here before though, that I think sum up my weekend in Weymouth. They are:
“It doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.” – Greg LeMond
“People who struggle on the run probably spent too many pennies on the bike.” – Craig Alexander
Note – this is a really long post, so get a coffee or something. You’ll need it.
I’m not entirely sure how this was supposed to play out in reality versus in my head – but I had this plan that meant that the Lady and I would cruise on down to Weymouth on Saturday, casually register for the race and take in the sights, rack my bike before a lovely dinner and a movie, followed by an early bed time. I certainly missed that plan by a fair margin. We got out of London at a reasonable time (after sadly saying goodbye to the Tin Girly, who hilariously and loudly pointed out that the statue we were standing in front of had no pants on) with a view to getting to Weymouth with a couple of hours to spare to register for the race. Roadworks on the M3 southbound slowed us up, as somewhat expected, but from around Bournemouth onwards it was stop-start stuff, and rather stressful. We didn’t help ourselves by not eating much before leaving, and given how tight time was, we had to skip lunch as well – meaning that by the time we got into Weymouth, we were tired from the 4 hour (ish?) drive, hangry (hungry + angry), and I had about 45 minutes to spare. What matters is that we made it, got back to our 1960s era hotel (I can only hope that the décor is a deliberate choice as a throwback, sadly though, I suspect not – the whole place smelled like my grandparents’ house) so that the Lady could rest a bit on the bed while I took my kit down to transition for racking. Once that was done I was exhausted, but still had a safety brief and dinner to negotiate. I wolfed down a sandwich and a drink, sat through the brief and headed back to transition to fill up my water bottles (the alternative was to do so at 5am – no thanks!) We then headed out for dinner, wandering up the beach. By this time I was absolutely shattered though, and really feeling quite unwell. Unsurprising really, given that I hadn’t stopped moving since about 8am, but not great preparation for a half-Ironman race. I struggled down a lasagne at a Wetherspoons (while not talking to the Lady – I was in such an arsey mood – absolutely nothing to do with her, the poor thing) fighting a headache and a bit of nausea. Rather than enjoying the sights of Weymouth after dinner, we headed back to the hotel room where I crashed in a heap.
I got woken up a couple of times during the night by the drunken revellers of Weymouth (our hotel was on the sea front, so hardly surprising), but all things considered I was very happy to wake up at around 645am on race morning feeling much better than I had the night before. My stomach was settled enough to have some porridge, and my headache was gone. I was ready to go! We grabbed our stuff and wandered down to the swim start amongst the growing crowd, and the nerves started to creep into my chest. Wetsuit on, last kiss from The Lady and I was at the start line, staring out into the sea, immediately regretting my choice of race and the sea swim that was coming. Why hadn’t I practiced swimming in the sea before this?
Swim (46:56, ranked 388th out of 507, bottom 24% of all racers)
Let’s get this out of the way early. That was probably the worst swim I’ve ever had. The first London Triathlon is a close competitor, but as of today I think Weymouth pips it. Listing the things that I had not considered before this swim that I probably should have:
What an idiot. I think I hated this swim within about 30 seconds of the klaxon going off. Seriously. It was about 30 seconds in that I realised this was a bad idea, and that I had not swum in the sea/ocean/large-body-of-water in a long, long time. If ever to be honest. So it was about the second time that I swallowed a bunch of sea water that I thought this sucked. The first 700m out was a real, real struggle – to the point where I seriously considered quitting. Which is not a nice thing for me to admit, given the work that I had put in to get there. I was against the tide, and just getting battered by the waves – getting airborne and dunked every other wave, unable to breathe and getting dizzy swimming my head above water. For once I didn’t get bashed up by other swimmers, but that was because I was so far behind them all! The orange buoy that marked the first turn point seemed like a long, long way away – but slowly and surely it was within reach. The further I got out to sea, the waves started to become more manageable, and my panic subsided. I even managed to start breathing properly for some strokes, which helped with the confidence and got me to the first turn. I stopped at the buoy, emptied some water out of my goggles, took a deep breath, and headed for the next turn buoy 500m away. I was much happier swimming across the waves, unsurprisingly, but still disconcerted by only breathing out of one side (the right side) as it makes me dizzy to only breathe one sided. The other option was getting a lung full of water though, so I had to suck it up (so to speak).
By this time, the previous wave swimmers started to come through, and there was a little bit of argy-bargy, but this was nothing compared to previous races (London Triathlon this year in particular). I think I was just relieved to not have to swim into waves to be perfectly honest. And if there was one thing that I actually did quite well – it was my sighting. My Garmin told me that I ended up swimming 1800m (rather than 1900m), so I must have taken the shortest legal route, or close enough to. That’s a positive – if you aren’t good at something and aren’t enjoying it, you may as well do it as fast as you can. I semi-comfortably negotiated the middle leg of the swim, and with 700m to go to get to T1, any thoughts of quitting were gone and replaced with thoughts of how I was going to limit the damage the swim had done when on the bike.
The last 700m were not as comfortable as I thought they might be, however again, with the relativity of the first 700m it was a breeze. My bigger problem now was swimmers coming through (I did get a kick in the mouth, which was not pleasant) and making sure I sighted the exit correctly. I was growing in confidence at this stage, and managing to swim with my head under water far more. I was still getting tossed about in the water quite a bit, but I think I was spurred on by being able to see the shore – which is something you don’t get as much in lake/river swims. In lake/river swims, it feels like everything on land looks the same – you don’t have a clear landmark like a massive beach to guide you. Holding on for dear life, I managed to struggle to the shore, pull my swim cap and goggles off and stagger towards T1. Seeing The Lady, I even managed a “that was horrible!” rather than the optimistic “I wasn’t last!” that I yelled out last year. I think that was pretty reflective of the different swims and my expectations of my performance. Oddly though, my swim this time was only 39 seconds slower than last year – so I didn’t have that much of a reason to feel bad about my time. I was frankly surprised, given I expected my swim time to be closer to 1 hour. I can’t complain too much though – realistically I haven’t put any work into my swim this year, so improvement doesn’t just manufacture itself out of nothing. I will say this though – I will never do a sea swim again. Unless its Ironman Melbourne. Or Kona. But that’s it.
I ran into T1, and managed to run into a young guy who had crossed the road at a bad time, which was slightly unfortunate but hardly a problem. I took a moment to compose myself in the change tent, ripped the wetsuit off and considered the weather before opting not to go with a warmer jacket. I had a bit of a sick stomach on account of the sea water, but generally speaking I felt ok – and as I hopped on to my bike, I figured that PB was still comfortably on, as was a sub-6 hour time. Despite the swim, I was on track.
Bike (2:57:59, ranked 217th out of 507, top 42% of all racers)
Rolling out of T1, I was fortunate enough to see The Lady, and gave a reassuring shout out of “Now I’m happy!”, which I genuinely was. I’ve worked much more on the bike this year, and this was where I was going to be able to lean on my strength and make some time gains. Pre-race I had looked at the course profile, and figured that I would need to take it easy in the first 10km, before pushing on in the middle half of the course. I wanted to average around 30kph for the course, meaning I was aiming for a 3 hour bike split.
I immediately ditched the race plans for reasons that beggar belief, and hammered myself up the hills in the first 10km. Some of this was ignorance, but some of this was also miscalculation. I had done a heart rate test for the bike a few weeks ago, and established what my maximum (or ‘tempo’) sustainable heart rate was on the bike. Conventional wisdom says that you should ride at about 80% of that maximum for a half-Ironman bike course. I didn’t do that. I thought that my tempo heart rate (around 140bpm) was my 80%, and effectively hammered myself for the next three hours. Oops.
I think I kinda knew it too – my legs were pretty heavy, I was just hoping that the run wouldn’t be too bad. My overriding thought though was a tactical one. Around 20km in to the ride, my average speed was around 25/26kph. I figured at that stage that even if I hammered myself on the bike for a sub-3 hour ride, I would still be able to run a 2:40 half marathon and get a PB. There was no use in my head sitting back, and doing a 6:20 total time. I may as well have a crack at going sub-6 hours, and if I blow up on the run, I’ll still do a PB. So I smashed myself on the bike. Lesson learned – don’t do that.
There was some fun to be had on the bike too – I passed quite a lot of people, and saw some lovely, lovely bikes (all on a more sensible strategy than me!). I even managed to pass one guy around 4 times, each time on hills. We had a routine – I would pass him going up a hill, and he would pass me on the downhill or flat. The fourth time he passed me, he smiled and said “I’ll see you when you pass me on the next hill!”. It was also a semi-interesting bike course, at least the part around the Army Tank training centre was anyway. Some of the Army lads had been drafted into manning one of the aid stations, so there were a good laugh. I had a big grin when one of them was shouting out “get your gel in – you need prooooootein!”, which is the kind of thing that really gives you a boost when you are struggling.
Around 45km in, and my average speed was still stuck at around 27kph. I was a bit worried at this stage, as I had pushed myself on the bike, and I was still looking at a deficit off the bike to go sub-6 hours – meaning I would need to run a sub-2 hour half-marathon, which was not likely in the state I was in. I saw a sign by the race organisers that said ‘Are you ready for the fast bit?’ and actually said out loud “yes please!”. They weren’t wrong either – it was great to have some flat roads and some downhill sections to speed along, and that pretty much lasted until the final 10km of the bike leg. I managed to drag my average speed up to 29kph, putting me within reach of my sub-6 hour goal. Another downhill section back into town, and I even managed to top the 30kph average speed I was looking for, and entering T2 in 2:58 off the bike, I was right on time. My legs were a bit cooked, but I was putting faith in my run training and ability to hold an easy pace of around 5:41 per kilometre to get over the line.
T2 was a laugh, as I accidentally opened a port-a-loo door on a guy who was relieving himself (thankfully number ones I suppose!). He gave out a squeak, and then we both lost it laughing at the situation. I gave him a sorry and a laugh at his noise, before getting changed into running gear and charging out on to the run course for the final leg of my Weymouth adventure.
Run (1:43:53, ranked 272nd out of 507, top 53% of all racers)
I wrote a note on my phone in the car on the way home from the race, that reads as follows:
‘Run was good…for the first 3km.’ Which felt about right. I high-fived kids, kept a steady pace of around 5:30 per km, and felt good. Looking at the splits, it looks like I was actually ok until around 8km in. The first ten kilometres look like this:
1km – 5:28
2km – 5:29
3km – 5:33
4km – 5:32
5km – 5:29
6km – 5:32
7km – 5:30
8km – 5:44
9km – 5:44
10km – 5:46
I managed to eat a banana and get some water at around 4-5km; but most importantly I grabbed a kiss from The Lady, who had been able to track my progress on my phone. I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to see support on the course, and having The Lady there was a real advantage. Even if it slowed me down as I stopped to kiss!
The run course was flat, as it was sea-side, and it wound along the bay before turning by the finishing Pavillion and into the shopping area, before looping back out along the bay again. It was nice to have a little variation in scenery, although I wasn’t a massive fan of having sand whipped into my eyes when the breeze came up on the beach. There was a ton of support lining the route though, which keeps you going. I did get tangled up with a couple of faster athletes though, as well as members of the public on course. I bumped into one guy who didn’t look behind him when stepping by to pass someone when walking along, and remonstrated (not my finest moment – I was tired!) with a woman who was randomly standing in the middle of the run course (which was also a walking path to be fair). I even managed to find time to bump into one of the racers from the full Iron-distance race, who inexplicably tried to pass me on the left at one stage (you always pass on the right, its just the thing that is done) and I drifted left into. These were all little things though, that stand out because they took my mind off how much my legs and body was hurting.
The run was a significant struggle from around 8km onwards, not helped by me miscalculating how many laps I had to do – why do I always miscalculate making the run shorter than it is! I hate to say it, but I was in such a state that I genuinely considered quitting at one stage during the run. I wasn’t particularly interested in taking on food at this stage (I took one gel) and took sips of water and sponges at aid stations. It was hard, hard work – I certainly paid for the bashing I gave myself on the bike. As Craig Alexander would say – I had spent too many pennies on the bike. I didn’t walk though, I toughed it out, and held my average pace at around 5:41 per kilometre, even though I had calculated that I needed around a 5:50 pace to finish under 6 hours. I didn’t feel confident that I was going to make it until with about 3km to go – at which stage I started thinking about the finish line, seeing The Lady and sitting down (not in that order).
With about 2km to go, with the finishing Pavillion in sight, I decided to glance at my overall time on my Garmin – as I usually have my Garmin set to only look at single sports rather than my overall time (this helps manage pacing better). I was absolutely stunned to see that the clock was reading about 5:30. It had to be an error – I had calculated my pace to ensure that I finished around 6 hours, so I should have been at about 5:50. I couldn’t believe it – not only was I going to go sub-6 hours, I was going to obliterate it. I figured that if I was short on course (and I couldn’t have been, I had checked GPS the whole way – even if the run course worked out to be 18.3km rather than the 21.1km it should have been), I would sort it out later. Clearly I was supposed to finish the race, rather than do a 25.3km run, so I headed down the finish chute.
It was probably the most emotional I have been finishing a race – perhaps possibly the 2013 Edinburgh Marathon, which was for very different reasons. I’m interested to see the photos, because there was plenty of fist pumping, chest thumping and arms raised on that finish line. My main race for 2015 was done, I had met all of my goals comprehensively and grabbed a kiss from The Lady before leaning on the stage and – I have to admit – welling up a little bit at what I had managed to do. There had been plenty of times during the race where I wasn’t sure I would finish, and the fact that I had worked through it made me so proud that I just couldn’t help it. What a day.
Race finish time was 5:40:59, which placed me an admittedly disappointing 275th out of 507 participants, and in the top 54% of all Half competitors. That’s not to take anything away from my time which was phenomenal, but I suspect that after my top third exploits at the London Triathlon, I expected such a quick time to place a bit higher.
What can I say that doesn’t sum my race up like this – I was 1 hour and 22 seconds faster than my personal best, including around 26 minutes faster on the bike, and a mind-bogglingly 37 minutes faster on a run that I hated (though the run was short). That’s just a brilliant result, far beyond anything I could have hoped for when I was nearly vomiting outside Wetherspoons on Saturday night, or any time before that frankly.
Any disappointment that I feel about the race is more to do with my execution of the strategy rather than the race itself. I pushed myself to the absolute limit out there, and as The Lady pointed out – I could not have gone any faster. On the training that I have done, I reached the peak of what I could achieve. I definitely over-biked, which is a good lesson to learn before I go punishing myself in Bolton next year. Consider that lesson learned, and me an idiot should I choose to repeat it. I also know not to do sea-swims, but that my swimming isn’t as bad as I think it is. I also know that my race nutrition is pretty poor – I got away with taking on virtually nothing on the run in Weymouth, I won’t be afforded to same luxury in Bolton.
How do I feel? I’m so ridiculously proud of myself looking back on this race. I really feel that I have come so far since Eton Dorney last year, where I really did enough to just finish. At Weymouth I raced, and stretched limits I didn’t know I had. I also feel relieved, as I was concerned that if I didn’t break 6 hours at Weymouth, I would try at Ballarat, possibly to my detriment. I can now race Ballarat as a fun race, for training purposes – which was what I had hoped it would be. Ballarat is a race I am doing to be able to race at home, not to break any time records or anything. With my result at Weymouth I can do this now.
And that is season 2015 pretty much in the can. I have the Ealing Half Marathon in a couple of weeks, which I don’t know what I am going to do with. I will wait until the week of the race to work out whether or not I try for a PB or not, but knowing me, I absolutely will. After that – it’s time to focus on Ironman UK 2016 and everything that comes with that. What a great year I’ve had – personal bests all over the shop; my biking has improved out of sight, and my running has also improved but I didn’t notice as much. I’ve a lot of work to do on the swim and nutrition side, but I am still a work in progress naturally.
For now though, it’s rest and reflection for a couple of days, before lacing up the shoes and getting ready for Ealing.
I need to acknowledge a special moment for the Tin Girly as well – who asked her Mum during the race day back in London how Daddy was going in his race, and I’m told was very excited when she was told that I had finished the race. She then exclaimed to another child in the play park she was in that “My daddy won!”. I’m very fortunate to have such amazing people in my life – I just hope I tell them enough, and I look forward to giving the Tin Girly a big cuddle when I see her next.
I want to finish with a massive thanks to The Lady, who had to put up with the worst of me this weekend. I was stressed on the drive down, then hangry and sick on the evening before the race, quiet and introverted on race morning, and then as cranky as I can get post race (especially when she wanted an ice-cream – how dare she!). She puts up with a lot (I really do wonder why sometimes) and was there with me every step of the way during the race in my head. But I genuinely mean it when I say that I couldn’t achieve what I have achieved this year – all of the progress that I have made – without her love and support, as well as coffee and sausages for breakfast post long workout! You’re amazing gorgeous girl, and I love you very much.