The day started well enough, with well over 6 hours solid sleep and then waking just before my 4 am alarm went off. In fact I felt better than I do most days getting up for work! Throwing off the covers, my first thoughts were ‘It’s cold’. Coming from the guy who wears shorts in the snow, either my metabolism had shut down, or it was cold! Anyway, I was quickly dressed and forced down a couple of bowls of coco pops. I really wasn’t feeling hungry, and I didn’t really eat a massive amount the night before, but with the amount I had eaten in the weeks leading up, I wasn’t exactly low of energy supplies.
Stepping outside to the car, and I felt how cold it was. I was in race kit, compression tights, shorts, t-shirt and hoody, and all I could think was ‘I’m freezing my tits off’! Quickly in the car to get warm, I then headed down to Henley to get ready. Sleeping in your own bed the night before a race, in an environment you are used to was a novelty! I arrived at the race sight at about 5 am, just in time for T1 to open up and was one of the first ones in. It took a while to get my bike ready and get all my stuff taped to my bike, as I didn’t have it with me the day before. I stuck to my IMUK fuelling strategy – 3 bars, 10 gels and a bottle of fairly concentrated GO on the bike, with water and any more electrolyte drink I needed to be picked up at the aid stations. Soon transition started filling up, and it became more like a social reunion again, as I spotted a lot of friends and wandered over to say hello. The big Man Tri contingent were ready, and I soon bumped into Weeksy, who was setting up just down from me. With the wetsuit problems of the day before, I got the bottom half of my suit on early and then stood with Chris and Cheryl until we were ready to get in the water.
As we were given the ‘5 minutes til we had to be in the water’ warning I was putting the rest of my wetsuit on, looked down at my ankle and then thought ‘where’s my timing chip’. Cue 5 minutes of running around like a headless chicken, speaking to marshalls and rummiging through bags, only for it to fall out of my wasitband… phew! Nothing like a bit of excitement! We headed down into the pen as we were given the news that the race would be delayed by 5 minutes due to the fog – visibility was practically nil. I spotted a few others in the pen, including the Man Tri lot, Ben, Russ and Steven Bayliss and passed on the good lucks. The general consensus was that it was too cold, dark and early to be doing this! Although most of the negativity was probably coming from me, mentally I was not in it. Thankfully it was actually warmer in the river than it was out! I swam over to the start and put some water in the suit and tried to get warm and loose. I was still near the back when I heard a whistle, and looked around wandering if that was the start sound. A klaxon a few moments later confirmed this, and caught off gaurd, I started my watch and we were off.
Being stuck at the back meant I spent the first few minutes weaving in and out of people and trying to get the arms going. After about 10 minutes I was at the front of the back pack, with no sign of the front pack, but just kept an eye on the bank whilst trying to take a racing line. After about 20 minutes, I started to feel actually OK, and was swimming well and soon went past Temple Island, and ticked the buoys off. After one bouy people started stopping and I looked up and saw a kayack point people back, apparently we had hit the turn around! At 36 minutes it was about time too! I had about another 5 minutes of OK swimming on the return route, swimming in the middle of the river with my own kayack escort keeping me on course. A later wave swimmer drifting across towards us prompted him to go back to crowd control, and from then on it went downhill. At this point I was in no-man’s-land, pretty much on my own and with the fog could not see the course at all. I was blinidng swimming down the river, with no idea where I was going. I had to stop a few times to stretch my back out and get my bearings, and the time seemed to tick down seriously slowly, which wasn’t fun. The current I was counting on was either non-existent, or my stroke was falling apart, probably a combination. Eventually I saw the exit and finally hit the ramp and got out. 1:11 on the clock was not a good start to the day, putting in close to my worst swim for nearly a year, though I had probably swam closer to 4.5k. Still my lack of recent pool time was really showing.
I actually walked to the tent, as at this point running to shave a minute off didn’t really seem worth it. I found my bag, stripped my wetuit off and stood there shivering staring into my bag in a trance-like state. Kit selection had been bad enough the day before, let alone when I was cold and tired and annoyed with my swim, and it seemed like everyone was a bit disoritentated. It was cold but given the day before, when the sun came out it would get seriously warm, and didn’t look like it would rain. Eventually I kicked myself into gear, got my arm warmers and gillet on, ran to the bike, put my helmet on and set off.
I knew within 15 minutes of setting off on the bike that I was in for a long day. The first drag up the dual carriageway failed to warm me up, and my toes were as numb as they had been in the start pen. I was seriously worried about losing them to frostbite! My hamstrings were also extremely tight and any hope of sitting on the aerobars had flown out the window. Coming round the roundabout towards the first swim I saw Chris coming back the other way with a group of strong cyclists and female pros and got a big thumbs up from him. Thankfully he was having a better day than I was! When I hit the turnaround, I did a quick bit of maths and realised I was probably only about 20 minutes behind him, and I was playing leap frog with a female pro, so maybe there was some hope after all. Going up the first big climb, I even felt in control, though it was clear that my legs weren’t firing on all cylinders. Each turnaround, big turn and roundabout was packed with spectators and at the end of the lap it was absolutely packed. Kids and parents were camped outside their houses cheering on the spectators for the day. For a first time event, it was awesome.
At the start of the second lap up the dual carriageway, my legs were still cold and hand’t warmed up. At least at this point I had enough blood flowing to loosen up my hamstrings and be able to get aero for a bit. This didn’t last long as the fatigue in my posture built up and my neck, shoulders and arms soon got too tired. Going up the big climb again and I was struggling. It felt as if I hadn’t shifted up a gear and was griding away – tough going. I was also fairly isolated by this point and it was a lonely few miles. At the final turnaround of the lap the lead men were catching up, and I was lapped by Aaron Fowler. On the descent I thought I was going fairly well until Steven Bayliss came flying by at breakneck speed. As he sped off into the distance I hit a gravelly patch and nearly lost my front wheel on a stone, which certainly got the adrenaline going!
The final lap was pretty much more of the same. I was extremely glad of my kit selection and at parts could have done with a jersey as I got spat further and further back in the field. On the final climb of the bike, I actually felt better than I had the lap before, and then after the descent I FINALLY felt OK and the legs had started to work, despite the downpour that had started. 170k to warm up on the bike and get the legs working properly. Nightmare. Coming into T2 was a few, my neck and shoulders hurt and my bum was sore! First thing on the list this winter is get a bike fit and get everything sorted out once and for all. However, my legs felt OK.
I was extremely glad of my spare socks in my T2 bag, the ones I were wearing were soaking through and would have been blister central! I got my wet kit off, and put the shoes on. It took me so long to get ready that my GPS had locked on before I had left the tent! The flip side of this is that it had stopped raining and was turning into a quite nice afternoon. Once I was ready, it was time to set off and I wanted to see what I could run. I may have had a rubbish swim and bike, but I wanted to do something on the run.
With my new found energy in the legs, I set off on the run and my pace was high. After my breakdown at Roth, I made a conscious effort to slow down and decided to stick to 5 min/km pace until half way if I could and then see what happened. I went through the 5k mark in under 25 mins and was on track. Unfortunately the fatigue built up from Roth and IMUK had other ideas, and soon the pace was slipping and within 8k or so I was walking aid stations. Not having my fuel belt bottles I had to resort to aid stations for fluid, not that it would have made too much difference. From then on in, it was shuffle between aid stations, walk through and get nutrition on board and then start running again.
At around 25k the mind went and I hit a serious low patch and spent a good 10 minutes walking. Times were out of the window, now it was just a case of surviving and putting one step infront of the other. I saw Chris who had gone on to a storming finish of 10:09 to win his age group. It’s about time one of us had a good race! Also out sufferening on the course were Ben and also Anna, who joined me on a walk at 35k for a few minutes before I made the final push home. The last 5k were tough, and I was hurting but I kept running. Mentally I need to refresh and toughen up, I’m convinced that running the whole marathon is 75% mental, even if it is just quick shuffling. Coming down the finish chute was more relief than anything else. My ambitious hattrick was complete and I had managed it, even if it wasn’t pretty! Over 13 hours is a long day, and hurts so much more than going under 11! The guys out there who are doing 16 hours – that takes guts and determination.
Doing a hatrick was ambitious in the short time, and with a hectic schedule in between, my recovery wasn’t ideal. I think if I had been training full-time and had no distractions I could have had a decent race, but it is certainly an experience to learn from. I have learnt a lot this year, and have a good idea of how to progress my training forward next season, especially as I move from full-time athlete to full-time worker. The 2 hour coffee rides are going to be out the window! However, the reflection on the season and the planning for the next can wait, I am going to have a proper off season. 3 weeks or so completely off, with no triathlon to worry about. After a long season, I need the break to recharge the batteries and recharge the mental batteries.
It’s been a good 2011.
So work has been fairly busy, but certainly keeping me occupied. Finally got around to writing this! It’s rather long… enjoy!
The early start for IMUK was made a lot easier by an early night. I got a good 6 hours sleep, which I usually never do before a big race. Having said that, I was so relaxed I nearly slept through my alarm! Once I had eventually dragged myself out of bed, I had a shower to wake myself up and then wolfed down a good few bowls of coco pops before heading to the car.
Thankfully at half 3 in the morning the streets of Manchester were pretty quiet as I headed up to Bolton, mainly filled by taxis shuttling around those still on their nights out! Once at the Reebok, I parked up and waited for the Shuttle bus, on which I nearly fell asleep again! I was pretty knackered, felt crap and my legs were dead – a pretty normal IM race morning then.
Once we had arrived and gone through body marking it was time to assess the situation. The weather was pretty good considering the bleak forecast a few days earlier, and the main thing is that it was warm. Decision made – tri top with no extras. I loaded my bike up with the food and drink and pumped the tyres up. I was next to Amy from the club so had a nice chat with her. In between us was this poor girl, Hannah, who was as nervous as it was before her first Ironman, which wasn’t helped as I was reeling off how badly I had suffered on the marathon in Roth… 3 weeks before! A few words of encouragement helped, and I saw her later on with a smile on her face on the run course, so it can’t have been too bad!
I got the wetsuit on and joined the big queue for the swim. We were told that the race was starting on the dot, no matter what, so everyone was getting rushed. I made it in, said good luck to all the people I knew as we entered and then tried to get my game head on. It was proving a challenge though, with Roth still lingering in both my mind and body, but on the plus side, I wasn’t getting stressed, I was flapping and I wasn’t wasting energy.
I swam over to the start line and the arms felt OK, which was good given the dire swim I had had the day before. I found a spot with a bit of clear water a few rows back and placed myself there. I had clear water around me so didn’t have to worry about any fighting and I was confident I could out-swim those behind me, or at least kick a bit harder if they start pulling to get the off. However, just before the start everyone was pushed back as they had all drifted forwards, but the people behind me had decided they were fine where they were. Goodbye space! I was boxed in, and there was no point trying to move now, it was about time I got involved in a swim.
There was some ‘inspirational’ music played before the start (the National Anthem was it?), though given we could barely hear it from the start, it was more for the crowd’s benefit. Then the klaxon sounded and it was arms, feet and fists everywhere. I managed to stay afloat and found myself at the back of the massive swell created by the swimmers ahead, getting a fantastic tow. By the time we hit the start of the 2nd lap, the pack had strung out and there were pockets of swimmers around. A quick check of my watch, 25 mins, and I knew immediately that I was on for a good time. I felt comfortable in the water, shoulders a little tight, but I just concentrated on a good pull and keeping my elbow high and I felt good. I drifted from pack to pack, though swam most of the 2nd lap on my own, occasionally bumping into the same swimmer as he swam his swim. He was obviously a decent swimmer, he just couldn’t sight for jack! He would swim into me, look up suddenly, shocked, point himself in the right direction and then swim off. I quickly stopped following his feet, when he started swimming away from me and within a minute had put a good gap of 50m between us… though to my left, instead of ahead of me! The 2nd lap went by after 50 minutes or so, and then it was just a case of swimming to the exit.
As I approached, I could begin to hear the roar of the crowds and had a quick sight and it was packed! It was fantastic to see, and gave me a big boost as I was hauled out of the water. A glance at my watch, and seeing 58 tipped me over the edge. I pegged it full gas towards transition, tripped on something and looked like I was about to go flying. Somehow, whilst stumbling forward with the crowd going ‘ooooh’ as they waited for me to fall, I managed to keep myself upright, and some dignity intact. Smooth Tim….
I entered transition, with a nice throbbing toe from the trip, and grabbed my bag. It seemed to take me forever to get ready, but I got through (and with a helpful volunteer this time) and ran to my bike. Seeing a pretty much full transition was a nice sight and I headed out for the tough bike course.
The climb out of transition took me a while to get my legs going, and then I felt pretty empty. I tried getting aero, but had a sore back from swimming and the legs didn’t want to loosen up, so I sat up and pushed on, waiting for them to wake up. Actually, praying would be a better term – I would be in for a seriously long day otherwise. As I cycled to the start of the laps, the crowds were beginning to start already, with people outside houses cheering us on, and one guy I remember stood in his dressing gown with a cup of tea clapping away. I did have to do a quick check to make sure I was in the UK.
After about half an hour they finally came round and I settled down. In fact I felt strong, really, really strong. I was soon hammering it, and probably getting a bit carried away, but I was enjoying it. At the 60k mark, I had about 1 hour 50 on the clock, which was about Roth pace! I had definitely set off too hard, though I did feel in control the whole time. Maybe fresh I could have held close to that pace, but with Roth still in the legs, I knew it was going to bite me at some point. The only thing I could do was to continue shovelling food down me and hope it didn’t hurt too much.
By the time we hit Sheephouse Lane, I was passing quite a few of the quicker swimmers, and climbing well. I went over the climb in control, waiting for the big steep bit I remembered from a couple of years ago, when it levelled off and I could see the descent. Evidentally my cycling has improved some what over the last couple of years! I went over that, and it certainly wasn’t the windy, scary descent I remembered (not having fractured my collar bone on a similar descent 8 weeks earlier probably helped too) and I went down pretty quick, though certainly not as quick as some of the suicidal people I saw. Then it was round the (really!) sharp turn, which nearly caught me out the first time, and up climbing again. Thankfully the horrible road there had been resurfaced, which made things easier, and a crowd was starting to gather, much helped by the pub being open by the corner, full of bemused locals.
Wearing my Man Tri kit always helps with crowd support, and I got a few cheers, including a big roar from the COLT guys and pressed on. The next lap was pretty similar, and as it has taken me so long to get round to writing this, a bit of a blur. The 2nd climb up Sheephouse was pretty similar, and I was leapfrogging the same female pros for much of that lap. At around 90k I had to stop and answer the call of nature, by this time a little too ‘numb’ to be able to go whilst on the bike, but at least I knew I was keeping some semblance of hydration. I passed the halfway mark in about 2 hours 55, still feeling OK and being pushed on by the huge crowds. By the 100k mark, I could start to feel Roth in my legs, and then by 120k the wheels truly started coming off. I had food in me, had stuck to my nutrition plan but it felt like I was bonking big time. At around this time my lower back started to completely stiffen up and any hopes of spinning away down on the bars evaporated due to the pain it caused (from a tight ITB I’m told, most likely after a crap recovery between Roth), and all I could do was try and push on, and watch the computer click down agonisingly slowly.
I could see my average speed dropping and dropping, and after some quick calculations my bike time was dropping and dropping. This sent my mood spiralling down, and on the lonely stretch of A-road, there was nothing to do but think about it, which only made matters worse. I forced food down, and this usually helps, and all that was left was my usual stubbornness to push on. Coming to the bottom of Sheephouse Lane for the 3rd time, I was not looking forward to it with empty legs. Thankfully the crowd here had swelled to a massive size, with little room to climb. Our very little own Solarerberg! Lots of familiar faces and cheers gave me a good boost, but it was still a massive grind to get up. By the time I reached the top, I was spent and had to spin easily to the descent which I coasted down. At the corner again, the crowd was just huge. Lots of people had gathered, and whoever were the people shouting out my name, thanks! Even the locals (still in the pub!) were getting in on it, and enjoying the day.
The final lap was a challenge, but helped by the pockets of crowds, including all the different cars that were parked in lay-bys, pumping music out and cheering us on. Coming to the end of the lap, it was a nice descent to the bottom of Sheephouse, where finally we turned off, which was a massive relief. Just over 170k on the computer, so 10k to struggle through. With 6 hours 10 on the clock, it was going to be a slow bike! Though I still had been leapfrogging the back of the women’s pro field not too long ago, so I can’t have been doing too badly. Down the windy roads I saw a school on the left. ‘Ah if only that was our school for T2’ I thought to myself. Round the corner, up the hill and there was a big crowd. And shock horror, it was T2! I hadn’t been so happy in a long time, and got off my bike, completely beaming! Turns out, my bike computer was either playing up or slightly off as it had 172k on the clock when I arrived, and from what I’ve heard it was actually slightly long.
I ran up the hill to the school hall to grab my bag, with a quick stop off at the toilets. I say ‘ran’, what I actually mean is ‘waddled’ – my legs were so ruined I could barely walk, but I was just glad to be off my bike. Sitting down in T2 was pure heaven, but I had a quick transition, running shoes on, visor on, watch on and grabbed my Fuel Belt, and set off.
Immediately I knew my legs were going to be tired, but I was hopeful that they would do the usual thing of taking 20/30 minutes to wake up then I could settle into my stride. I was running along pretty comfortably at around 5:15/5:30 pace so couldn’t complain too much, but well off my target. After about 10 minutes or so, Chris Weeks came by. I was a bit shocked to see him behind me, when he should have been well ahead, but from the sounds of it, he had just as bad a day as me. We ran together for a while, but he was ticking along a bit too quickly for me, and now was really now the time to push the pace so I let him head off.
I didn’t see many others on the run to the start of the laps, just lots of crowds. I kept saying thank you and smiling at so many groups that I was just glad to hit the start of the laps so I could fade into the group! The drag up to the lap start saw many people give up and walk, but I pushed on. With an awesome swim, surprising bike and with Chris just ahead(!), I wasn’t taken any chances. I was passing lots of people, and saw Chris just up ahead, which spurred me on a bit. Once onto the laps I settled down a bit, and found a good rhythm, I was just slow, and that was pretty much how it was for the rest of the day! I was soon in town, running down that hill, with a good size crowd building on the side to cheer us on. Once I hit the town centre, I was just blown away! The crowds were incredible, the noise deafening and I got such a buzz! I saw Leanne and a big group of Man Tri people, which gave me a good boost, and by this time my pace had picked up significantly. I caught Chris on the way out of the centre of town, and pressed on. However, as soon as we hit that hill, I was reduced to a shuffle again, and my speed dropped once more and I started paying for increase in speed for the rest of the loop.
The 2nd lap was almost identical, with an increase in speed as soon as I hit the massive crowds in town, which then dropped as it caught up with me and I hit the hill. By this time the rents had arrived, and I asked for a quick update on where I stood in the age group – 16th. With 3 slots in the age group, I knew it was game over for the Kona slots for this year, and I started to walk some aid stations to ensure I got enough fluids and energy on board. The final lap was tough, and I was struggling by this point. The crowds yet again picked me up, but running past the finish, knowing I had to do the lap all over again was depressing. In my state, I tried to work out how long it would take me, and how far I had left (given my GPS had taken a while to lock on), but I couldn’t work it out, I was too tired. Running down that hill for the last time was a massive relief, and from that point on, I tried to wind it up a bit, it wasn’t happening, but I made sure I enjoyed myself. Taking in the huge crowds, lined 5 deep on the streets, with music blaring out and cheering, the big Man Tri cheer as I went past for the last time, and the sprint down to the finish to grab a few more places. The smile and relief on my finish picture sums it up really:
I crossed the line in 10:52:45 with a 3:32 ‘marathon’. Yes it was short, by this stage I was *really* not complaining! I still would have put a marathon PB in, and given I felt terrible, whereas in Switzerland I felt really strong, it shows how much my running has come along. If I had know how close I was to my Roth time, I might have been able to push it to try and get a new PB, but I had no idea how long was left and was just pleased to finish! A really solid result, especially with Roth so close and I had performed much better. Despite grabbing 14th in my age group, if I had done that the year before I would have qualified. Evidentially, everyone had the same idea as me with all the slots, though I doubt most of them had decided doing Roth as well was a good idea! Overall I was 146th, which I am pretty chuffed with! Beats the 876th from Roth! Certainly something to build on.
The race was fantastic, and it is really starting to grow. The finishing village could have been a bit better, (and certainly had more than a measly portion of fish and chips!), but Bolton is really beginning to get behind the race. With the Team True Spirit guys there, there was a fair bit of interest in them, and it only added to the occasion. Fair play guys, it really was inspiring stuff. I know I keep harking on about the crowd, but seriously, it was unbelievable. I had goosebumps running through the town centre with the crowds, and could quite possibly find myself back there next year. It is certainly a course that suits me, though I think I may give racing Roth just before a miss…