I am (half) an Ironman – Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire

This one’s for you Mum.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire

A bitter sweet day. Last week was Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire, keen readers among you will know that this was the race I’ve been training for since mid last year. However, it’s safe to say that the last 12 months haven’t been the best. Injuries are one thing, family tragedies are another. I had been struggling with a niggling calf injury for 18 months. This had greatly affected my running, to the point that I hadn’t run much more than 10k this year. With this in mind the prospect of a Half Marathon was not something to relish!

However recent events put things in to context. Tragically my mother passed away very suddenly a month before the race. Training went out the window as emotionally I had no focus anywhere but the obvious. I was in two minds as to whether or not to do the race given everything that had happened. As Mum had been one of my key supporters though, it was obvious what I should do. So at 7am on 12th June, I lined up with 2286 other folks on an overcast day at Chasewater Reservoir. But first, a quick rewind…

Registration

Registration was available from the Friday but as I was working, I opted to do this on the Saturday before meeting the good lady in the evening to check in to the hotel for the night. Bridgtown Cycles were kindly offering free bike safety checks before the race, so i popped in there on the way.

Afterwards, my first mistake, I headed to Chasewater and it wasn’t until i’d removed my bike from the bike rack and walked part of the way there that I realised that registration was at Shugborough Hall… an hour later, upon arriving at Shugborough things were looking up. Irritatingly due to my own stupidity I had now managed to miss the earlier briefing, meaning that I would have to come back to Shugborough again for the last race briefing. The registration process was very straightforward and as I was now in no rush I took some time to check out the Expo. 2 minutes later I was on my way… I checked my ‘Run Bag’ in since I was there and had the time, then it was back to Chasewater to rack my bike and check in there.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Registration
I guess this counts as a warm up – right?
Through my own stupidity I’d given myself a pretty good warm up it seems! After finally attending the race briefing I learnt one issue. I had checked and been assured that I was ok to wear my race belt under my wetsuit. The race director said otherwise, thus I’d have to try and gain access to by ‘Bike Bag’ on the morning – one stress I could have done without. As it turns out, it wasn’t an issue at all – phew!

Race Day

Waking up before 5am is never fun but I felt surprisingly calm. On the mantra of nothing new on race day, I had bought my own breakfast along, even though the hotel was offering an early breakfast for competitors. Bringing my own bowl and spoon may have been a bit much mind… I applied my sunscreen, got ready, triple checked I had everything and off we went.

My wife dropped me off as near to Chasewater as she could and went off to park the car. She had ambitions of seeing me through the swim and then trying to catch me at a few pre-arranged points on the bike. This turned out to be nigh on impossible and something I hope they can look into. Closed roads are great for athletes but rubbish for supporters trying to get around. I have suggested some guidance on how to access certain key spectator spots going forward, I shan’t hold my breath though!

I had spoken at length with my coach about nutrition strategy and some general guidelines for the race, so I ran through these in my mind and checked everything was where it needed to be.

I  loaded my nutrition on to my bike, sorted my race belt issue and then set about gathering myself for the morning ahead! This was far and away the largest transition I’ve been in and there was quite a buzz around the place! A perfectly timed visit to the facilities and then on with the wetsuit. I walked down to the start, handed over my ‘End of Race bag’ with my dry clothes in and fortunately bumped into my wife – something we hadn’t planned as we assumed it would be impossible! I also bumped in to a guy I had been chatting to on twitter in the months leading up to the event – good to see you Dan.

The Swim – 35:36

The swim was a rolling start where you placed yourself where you figured your time would be – there were number markers starting from <30 minutes. I estimated between 30 and 35 minutes and placed myself accordingly. My age group (35-39) was first off after the Pro’s, so we got a good spot to watch both Male and Female Pro’s set off. With that, we made our way on to the pontoon and waited an anxious 10 minutes.

As it turned out, despite my position I was somehow quite near the front, not a lot I can do about it now! The hooter went off and we made our way in to the water; straight away I felt what seemed like a wash of people coming past me. My lack of race start experience and slight nervousness in the water maybe to blame? Either way, I didn’t set off very quickly and felt like I was going backwards, I desperately sought some feet to draft off but had no luck.

The course was one single point to point and at the first buoy, turning left, there was a long drag to the next turn. This was a lonely time as I saw no-one, I  caught one guy, but he disappeared again. I stuck to my rhythm and tried to focus on being efficient. At the next turn I had caught a few people up but when I turned I seemed to be alone again. I checked my sighting and noticed that whilst I was heading straight for the next buoy, everyone else seemed to be over to my right. I had already planned to push at this stage so did and I passed quite a few people. The final buoy was a right turn and in to the finish.

I glanced at my watch as I got out and was a little disappointed to have gone over 35 minutes but the distance also read long. Whilst contemplating this my left calf subtly mentioned that it had a small issue with cramp. The veins in my neck in the photo below give some idea as to my thoughts on this. After refusing medical assistance(!?) I stretched it out and went on my way for the rather lengthy trip to T1. It later turned out, I was 67th out of the water, so not too bad.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Swim Exit
CRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAMMMMMMPPPPPP!

The Bike – 2:35:14

The journey from swim exit to bike mount was a little over 400m and thus my T1 time was a little tardy at 5:50. I was very impressed with the volunteers in the tent though, helpful without being in the way. I got my socks, shoes and helmet on fairly quickly, dumped my bag and ran to my bike. I spotted Hayley yelling at me at the bike mount, I think it was encouragement too!

The first part of the bike course was pretty horrid. In the race briefing they had told us that there was no overtaking and no aero bars due to a poor surface and speed bumps! As you can see below, they weren’t wrong!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Start of the bike
Just the thing the Triathlon bike was invented for; bunny hopping speed bumps!
I had driven the bike course the previous week so knew that the first 10 miles were fairly technical; narrow lanes, loose gravel and some short, sharp hills. I set off at what I thought was a fairly steady pace and kept an eye on cadence and heart rate, noting that I needed to bring the latter down to the mid 160’s as per my plan.

About half way my lack of experience came back to bite me. Despite thinking I had gone off steady I seemingly hadn’t. (I would later learn I set a new 40k Bike PB of 1:09 – whoops!) My legs started to feel very tired on the hills so whilst my heart rate was good, I felt like I had little to give. I was drinking and taking gels to my pre-prescribed plan but felt a bit flat. I was having some good to and fro moments with a few folks too, until the faster cyclists from the next wave went past like I was on a BMX!

To keep the excitement high it was about this time that the ‘light shower’ that someone had mentioned hit. It seemed a little more like a monsoon though and I found myself struggling to see out of my visor, it also hurt when it hit me! There not being a lot I could do, I soldiered on, wondering at times why on earth I was doing this and remembering the opening lines of the post as I did.

I knew in advance that there was an evil hill at Cannock Chase, not too steep but a long steady drag of around 10km. The support from locals at this point was fantastic though and it gave me a good dose of encouragement though sadly not speed. My legs hadn’t come back to me and I pushed as best I could but was passed by a handful of riders.

Thankfully at the turnaround something clicked back in to place and I was able to push on the last 6 or so miles to Shugborough. One thing I wasn’t too pleased with was the number of 90 degree bends placed at the bottom of steep descents, this was exacerbated by the weather but still…

The ride into T2 was great as well, most of the supporters had gathered here, not bothering to venture out on the bike course. The volume of support as we arrived was fantastic. Thankfully I had no issues with cramp as I jumped off the bike. I think the fairly long run in from the dismount line may have helped as well as coach telling me to up the cadence on the last part of the bike. T2 was also a bit more respectable at 2:45, again fantastic support from volunteers but still a long run through it!

This was the first time i’ve really ridden my Tri bike in anger too and I have to say, I loved it. I think I might be after a new saddle though – ouch! I was due to go back for another bike fit leading up to the race but due to events that occurred I never made it. I think I have work to do to get more aero!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Out on the bike
Out and about on the bike – thankfully dry at this point!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Front on on the bike
Suffering on the bike!

The Run – 1:48:54

As I may have mentioned already, due to injuries I haven’t run very far this year. In fact I haven’t run more than 6 miles! So it was with some trepidation I left T2 with a Half Marathon looming… I had run the course the previous week so knew what to expect. The mix of terrain was loose gravel, tarmac and trail and the rain had done us no favours! The gravel ended up with large puddles and the trails were more like a cross country course. The support however was fantastic, everywhere you went there were people cheering you on.

There was one large hill on the course, thankfully on tarmac, but with 3 laps of the course not something to look forward to. I set off at a reasonable speed but trying to be steady. I had planned to do 8 minute miles (thus a 1:45 race) but as time went on, I slowed a little. The weather continued to be horrid but I stuck to my plan and waded through.

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 A wet first lap of the run
A wet first lap of the run!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire 2016 Still wet, but on to Lap 2
Still wet, but on to Lap 2!
I finally saw Hayley again as I started my final lap (just to my right in the pictures above) and I found this very emotional as she hadn’t managed to get to see me on the bike. Having had another chat to myself and my mum it gave me a boost to finish as strongly as I could. So the last lap was about giving the last my legs could.

I was passed in the last mile and knew that I didn’t have a sprint finish in me so opted to finish with the chute to myself. It was at this point that emotion hit me. I knew I would cry at the finish but the sheer relief of finishing and what I had used to channel myself there hit me pretty hard. No glory photos for me, arms aloft…

I must apologise to coach too, my run form was horrendous!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire Run to the Finish
Note the excellent form in the run to the finish!

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire Finish Line
An emotional finish to Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire
Hayley was there to greet me, I’m not sure she quite expected the emotional mess that I was but seeing her fuelled the fire a bit more. Thanks for being there as always….

Overall Finish Time – 5:28:19

Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire Run 2016 Support Crew Hug
A much needed hug at the finish!

In Summary

At the finish I was disappointed. I had always wanted to go Sub 5 hours. In the build up I knew this wasn’t going to happen but I couldn’t help feeling as I did.

It didn’t take long to realise that I was happy with my result. It was never going to be the best day  but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself, somehow! Despite entering T2 and offering my bike to anyone who had £50 it didn’t take long to casually check what other Ironman 70.3 events were upcoming… I urge anyone who thinks they might like to, to enter one.

It’s wonderfully horrific!

Some stats from the day (official link):

343rd out of 2287
316th Male
53rd in Age Group

I have now amassed 2503 ‘2017 IRONMAN All World Athlete Status Points’ too – whatever they are!

7 thoughts on “I am (half) an Ironman – Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire”

  1. Thanks for the read, it opens for 2018 shortly and I’ve just done my first triathlon! I’m going to enter this and your review assisted! Thank you 🙂

    1. Happy to help Sam. It’s a great race and although the course will be different in 2018, I too will be entering! Be wary of those speed bumps though!!

      Enjoy it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *