Wednesday 20 June 2012

UK Ironman 70.3 2012

Having been in a state of work, commute, train, sleep or eat only for the last four months or so, I'd not actually had any time to do race preparation or planning itself until this day.  That was not a nice place to be, but nevertheless, I had a couple of hours on Thursday morning, after my 60 minute swim session, to think about and pack for race clothing, transitions, nutrition and hydration.  The weather forecast for the weekend looked not so great, rain rain rain rain and more rain.  And the general view is that the weather can and will change across the bike course, so even if you're ready for dry sunny weather, you can end up getting hailed on at some point - this actually happened on the familiarisation day, so I was ready to believe it 100%

It wasn't going to be too cold, but still I packed long bib tights in case it was really cold all of a sudden and to allow for a change in bike clothing for my planned 20 minute short spin on the bike the morning before the race to get my legs loosened up. Also on the packing list was arm warmers; these are the invention of the Gods!

So anyway, Thursday morning was decide what to take, pack it all into bags, find and take the cats to the cattery, pack the car and head off.  That all went relatively  to plan, though as usual one of the cats wouldn't come in to be packed up to the cattery until we were at the point of getting nicely wound up that we were going to end up leaving much later than we wanted to.  But then he did, and we scruffed him into the carrier and off they went on their holidays.

Packing the car... it's not really designed to take two bikes and luggage for two who have to pack for pretty much any weather conditions for 5 days away.  But, we have our method and it just about fits, including a decent tool kit for bike adjustments/repair when we get there.  Which turned out to be rather handy when MrTOTKat's brake lever came loose in transit and we had to take it off, remove the cable, do up the offending screw, re-thread the brake cable and put the cap back on again.

4.5 hours of driving and breaks for a rest later and we arrived at the Anchor Inn in Exebridge.  We'd stayed there for the familiarisation day and knew it was well placed, almost on the bike course route itself, not too far from the lake and with new owners, a new chef and some ongoing improvements to the facilities, a great place to base ourselves.  Plus, this time we'd been given the big room to stay in which was great for the two of us and all of our race kit.  We unpacked a bit, had a lovely fillet steak for dinner and went to bed to get some all important sleep banked.

My training plan had a full rest day, which meant a lie in until 8am.  Bliss!  Then it was up for breakfast, getting our bearings again, fixing MrTOTKat's loose brake, and heading out for registration.

The drive to Wimbleball lake needed a bit of refinement over a few tries of it as the most direct routes all included phenomenally narrow country lanes with few passing places and we wanted to avoid that as much as possible on race day to keep the stress levels down.  Having found a not particularly good route on the way to registration, we parked up in the field set aside for event parking.  It was pretty muddy and slippery and involved squeezing the car between two trees to get to the top field this time.  We had a bit of a bimble around the event expo as it was being set up and it s all low key and quiet given that a lot of people wouldn't be showing up until later that day.

Registration was a bit fun.  This was the first time we really got to see the extras around being two of the Ultimate Athletes as IM UK are now referring the small group of us signed up for all 4 of the UK and Ireland events this year.  We have special race numbers allocated that will stay with us through all 4 events - I'm 104 in case you want to follow on the athlete tracker at any of the races.  So we picked up our race pack, including the race programme which also features a piece in the Ultimate Challenge as well as the three race bags, swim cap and race 'tattoo's (skin transfers with our race number and age category to apply to right arm and right calf) and had our athlete wrist bands applied by a volunteer.

I was getting quite cold, so decided to buy an end of season 2XU long sleeved compression base layer to keep me warm under my other clothes for the rest of the day and then ummed and aahed about maybe wearing it on race day too.  Then we headed into Dulverton to explore whether there was a supermarket to get things like snacks and milk for post race recovery shakes and some late lunch and we encountered more fun relating to narrow lanes and streets.  Top tip for living in that area have side parking sensors and/or don't have a really wide car.

I had a couple of bits of pre-race prep to do.  A light jog before breakfast, 15 minutes, up the road and back again.  The really cool bit was that as we were heading out on our jog, we jogged past Eimear Mullen and then again as we came back in.  She was on the same jog plan as us!  Later in the day, I was supposed to do a 20 minute spin on the bike before midday but I decided not to as it was very wet and I didn't want to mess up my bike before the race and/or run the risk of having an accident so late in the day.  Around midday, we saw Eimear come back in on her bike - same bike spin session too, eh?

After lunch, we headed back to the lake to rack up our bikes and hang our red and blue bags in transition ready for the race tomorrow.  For those that don't already know, for an Ironman race, you get three bags; one white, one red and one blue.  The blue bag is the bike bag.  You pack with all of the stuff you want for the bike leg that isn't actually attached to your bike.  So, bike helmet, bike clothes, any nutrition that isn't on the bike (in my case a fistful of nutrition bars, Mule and Clif, to go in my bike top pockets), any other bits like sunglasses, overshoes, towel to dry off after the swim if you want to do that etc.  When you come in from the swim, you pick up this bag in transition, get all the things you need from it and then pack up your swim gear and discarded bike bits you don't want back into that bag and it gets taken away for you to pick up again after the race is over.  The red bag is the run bag.  In there goes all of the things you want for the run, any clothes to change into, other nutrition you may want with you, running shoes, peaked cap etc.  When you come in from the bike you get all the things you need from it and pack up your bike gear  and discarded run gear you don't want into that bag and again it gets taken away for you to pick up after the race is over.  The white bag contains the things you want at the end of the race, any immediate medical or nutrition needs (e.g. asthma inhaler, special recovery drink/food) and at the start of the race, before you go down to the start line, you pack away the clothes and shoes you travel down to the race in before putting your wetsuit on and that gets taken to the finishers' tent for when you finish the race.

Once you have hung up your red and blue bags at this stage, you can't get to them again until the relevant part of the race, so you need to be sure you have packed the right things in there - checklists with actual tick-boxes are very much your friend!

As soon as we were done with that, it was time for race briefing.  Given that it was still peeing with rain, the registration tent, where the race briefing was going to be, was very popular and despite the briefing being an athletes only area, there were friends and family in there both sheltering from the rain and soaking up the atmosphere until they needed to be asked to leave as there was only just enough room in the tent for the athletes and attendance at the briefing is compulsory for athletes.

The Ultimate Athletes got a mention and with briefing over, we pootled back to the pub for dinner and early bed.

Sunday - RACE DAY!:-
We had little trouble getting into the car park and had plenty of time to put our drinks bottles on our bikes and hang around, sipping water before the last calls for putting the white bags away and heading down to the lake for the first wave start.  As Ultimate Athletes, we were in the first wave regardless of age category (I should have started in the second wave otherwise).  After a 15 minute delay, we were ushered down to the lake to slip into the water and get ready for the gun.

...which never came!  There was a bit of chatting and we sang the National Anthem, at the end of which it seemed that people decided it was time to start, much to the surprise of me and a bunch of people around me.  No klaxon, hooter, cannon or gun.  Nothing.  Weird.

The swim course is nice and simple - a clockwise triangle-ish shape, out towards the other bank, along and back in to the shore, through the blue arch and a long trot up the hill to transition.

It was a pretty OK swim apart from the fact that about 200m in, the middle finger on my right hand went totally stiff.  I couldn't bend it at all, nor close my fingers next to it.  So, instead of a nice gently cupped hand to catch and push the water and propel myself forwards, I had a large holed rake.  Not much use really.  So, given that, the fact that I had very little power generated by my right hand, a time just coming in under 37 minutes wasn't that bad at all.  As I stripped off my wetsuit, I noticed that my right arm from about 3 inches above the wrist to the tip of that finger felt very odd, like I'd trapped a nerve for quite some time.  So maybe that's what happened.

I never look that great when I've just taken my goggles off - never mind after 1.9km in 14ÂșC water
I checked my heart rate watch as I got out of the water and it was blank.  Completely black.  No display at all.  So that was going to be really annoying that I'd not have any record of the effort across the whole race.  In terms of understanding for later races, this was not useful at all.

Trotting in to T1, it was easy to find my bag as we'd made sure we knew exactly where they were when we racked them the day before.  MrTOTKat and Kate's were already gone - they'd had great swims so that was good to see.  But finding a space in the tent to finish taking off my wetsuit and put on my cycling gear was a complete loss.  It was busy as all hell, so I ended up squatting near the exit.

I dumped out the contents of the blue bag, tried to dry my feet a bit but they were still very damp when I came to put on my socks so that took ages.  I hadn't dried my arms at all so my arm warmers took forever to put on and I'd left them inside out which was even worse.  All in all, my transition wasn't great at all but I've learned for next time now what not to do, so that's a good thing to come out of it.

Bikes were easy to find given the handy numbers we've got and from there it was a short walk to the bike mount line.  Again it was very busy and there were a lot of nervy people with short tempers fraying at the edges.  I mounted up carefully and navigated the one or two who'd toppled over into the bushes in the haste and stress.

I spent most of the bike leg like this
...instead of like this.
To cut an even longer story short, the bike leg was a mixed bag.  Good hill climbing, reasonable straights and undulations, but I didn't trust my bike at all.  At the first descent where I needed to brake, there was something wrong with my back brake.  The lever needed almost four times as much travel to engage the brake and it scared me an awful lot, especially given the very difficult long descent at one point on the course (you do it twice).  However, it worked well enough that I didn't have any mishaps - unlike the poor guy who crashed almost in front of me at the junction in the bike course between the end of the laps and the spur back to transition.  He went down really hard and then didn't move much.  Thankfully the medical team were stationed exactly at that corner and he got immediate assistance.

Lookit!  Sunshine! Check the cool shades!
I did get down onto the tri bars for about 60s of the 4 hours or so ride *sigh*
Thankfully, my bike computer worked perfectly and I used it mostly to tell me when to eat.  The plan was to sip drinks as frequently as practical and eat from 30 minutes into the bike and every 30 minutes thereafter.  I pretty much stuck to that, but on reflection, solid food only on the bike is too difficult.  It's difficult to negotiate and difficult on the stomach.  So, the plan for the full distance ones is to take nutrition in the drinks as well - which means training with Gatorade as that's what's available at the races.

Coming in off the bike 25 minutes earlier than I'd thought might happen, I felt pretty good, but had no idea of the overall elapsed race time as my watch was broken.  I heard the announcement that Eimear Mullen had crossed the line and was still clutching the tape.  Good for her that she'd won - that thought gave me a lovely boost as I jogged into the transition tent for T2.

This time there was less crowding and I got a chair, a volunteer to help and had a much better transition this time.  The volunteer tipped the remains of one of my bike drinks bottles into my run bottle and topped it up with water as I asked, packed away my bike stuff and dug out my running hat for me as I changed my socks, put on my run belt and shoes and hat and headed out onto the run course.

Running, complete with cycling top in one hand.  Duh!
After about 100m I felt odd.  Heavy.  Wrong.  And I realised I still had my cycling top on, with the spare bars in it in case I lost any on the bike - they were jiggling about in the back pocket, weighed me down as well as the 750ml of drink in the bottle on my belt.  The bottle was expected but the cycling top and bars were a total mistake and shouldn't have been there.  Chatting with someone from Hillingdon triathlon club, I decided to ditch the nutrition bars at the designated littering zone at the next feed station.  Things felt a lot better after that, but shortly afterwards I really had to take the cycling top off as I was starting to overheat.  It did mean that I had to carry my top.  Which was annoying.  I really didn't want to lose it as it's my favourite one, so throwing it in the bin at the next aid station just wasn't an option.  The plus side was that clutching something in my right hand staved off the swelling and stiffness that I often get in that hand when running.

It's hilly.  Really.  Hence the big variation in pace.
Crazy run course route
The run course is pretty tough.  As tough, if not a bit more so, than the bike leg.  I felt reasonably rough for about half of the first lap, but then got stronger and stronger through it, into the second lap and the majority of that lap.  I ended up talking to a lot of people on the run course, and on the hard uphill part of the lap on my final lap I came across Charlie and we chatted for a good km up the hill, down the next one and across the dam to the middle feed station before I pulled away while Charlie walked the feed station and I carried on running (One of the reasons I decided to run with a run belt with a drinks bottle is that it meant I didn't have to walk the feed stations.  The other reason is that I have practised a lot running with a drinks bottle and drinking on the go so I maintain almost the same pace while drinking.)  There were a couple of dark moments on the run, but the final stretches from the dam to the finish line were great.  I kept running and running, passing lots of people walking and not being passed by any other runners.  Then I got to the top of the final rise, to peel off right to the finish chute.  I could hear the dulcet South African tones of Paul Kaye, the MC, calling out "and here comes another one of our Ultimate Athletes..." and slapped a huge grin on my face, ramped up the gas and almost sprinted down the red carpet.

There's a picture of me as a kid running -exactly- like this...

Threw my arms in the air.

And crossed the line a very happy TOTKat.

I always wanted a finisher picture like this one :o)

Later on, as we took our bikes apart to put them in the car to go back to the pub, I found the problem with my brakes...

See that silver, round lever on the left (as you look at it) of the front brake caliper?  The arm should not be pointing upwards.  That's the "open" position for releasing the wheel when you want to take the wheel off.  I'd made a really silly, basic error when putting my wheels back on when we went to rack our bikes the day before the race.  I didn't check that they were done up and worked OK before leaving it.

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