Thursday 20 June 2013

UK Ironman 70.3 2013

UK Ironman 70.3 2013 - or "you live and learn"

Last year, this race was great fun.  I was really very fit and had spent the winter scampering up the Surrey Hills in the snow on the bike and on foot

My bike was only 2 years old and in good condition.  That is not what happened this year.

So, I spent most of the winter 12/13 not doing a lot due to injury and then missing mojo and general apathy.  Things pick up a bit in March and April and I got a great week in at training camp in Spain.  But then I started a new job and I let that take over my life.

As the weeks ticked by with very little training going on (I looked at it the other day and I averaged 3.5 hours a week, compared with 8-9 a week last year).  While I was getting the short, quality sessions in, I was missing the basic endurance and fitness I'd previously done.  I got chubby, unfit and weak but was in denial.  I also ignored the niggling "get your bike serviced properly" thoughts and assumed I could get away with giving it a bit of a wash and lube.

Let me tell you this right now: you can't get away with any of that on the UK 70.3 course.  You just can't.  It demands more respect than that and if you don't give it that respect you will be humiliated by it.  And I was.

We decided to make the race weekends less impactful this year by going out to the venue on the Friday, straight to registration, then take Saturday easy before race day on Sunday.  So, we drove over to Exmoor on Friday last week to weather forecasts predicting doom and rain all of Sunday; heavy heavy rain and some reasonably stiff winds.

Heading straight to the Expo/race site to register, it was apparent that the weather in the days leading up to arriving had been less wet than last year as the site wasn't a mudbath when we arrived.  Registration was quick (the race kit bags are much nicer this year!) and I said hi to a few Ironman staff before trundling to the pub to check in.

A quick meal and a glass of wine and off to bed we went. Via obsessively checking the weather forecast every hour or so to see if it had improved.  And it did!  The rain had been due from pretty much 5am on Sunday and to last all day, but the forecast moved towards rain not hitting the area until midday.  That would be perfect as quite a lot of people would have finished the bike leg by then (me included most likely) and that would take away the biggest fear - a wet bike route and most specifically That Descent being wet.

Saturday was racking up and having a splash in the lake day and I was glad of that little swim as I'd not been in a wetsuit since Galway and certainly not with my modified swim stroke.  The water wasn't anywhere near as cold as feared and a good 2 degrees warmer than last year, so no cramp and no need for neoprene socks (despite them being allowed this year due to the cold).  Bike checked over, tyre pressures done and gears and brakes checked it was off back to the pub for a nap and a relax before very early dinner and bed.  Alarm set for 4am we were in bed at 9pm and asleep very shortly afterwards.

Sunday morning... a tiny bit of drizzle fell as we loaded ourselves into the car, but it stopped pretty quickly and the roads were dry.  With the great new traffic control system in place, we had no traffic troubles getting into the site car park, though as we'd not put the little badge in the windscreen early enough we got routed around a little loop to be asked about parking fees.  Parked up nearly and not too far from transition, I was in my final decision kit of tri top and shorts, calf guards, arm warmers all to go under the wetsuit for the swim, along with a neoprene hat under the race-issue silicone hat.  The plan for the bike was to add a bike jersey, gloves and warmish socks along with having two sets of toe warmers over my bike shoes to keep the chill off my toes which do suffer!

Mr TOTKat helped me into my wetsuit and being in the second wave I had a little more time to amble down to the lake shore for a bit of a dance to the thumping tunes while people stared at me like I was some kind of loon.  I felt great, the water wasn't cold, the rain was going to hold off, I wasn't worried about getting cold or falling off my bike or anything! The first wave of athletes were set off, and the second wave waited to be called down to get in to the water.  Bounce bounce bounce down to the shoreline where I bumped into a familiar race official who greeted me with "I know you!  Last time I saw you, you were crying in a tent in Galway!"  Cheeky so-and-so!  He was being funny and we chatted a bit.  He also remembered a lot more about the Galway thing than I did; "nice new watch, I guess the last did look pretty smashed up."  Anyway, off into the water we all toddled to wait to be released - race briefing had been very very clear on not waiting about at the start of the race in order to keep people from getting cold and we were in the water no more than a few minutes before the hooter went off to get splashing.

The swim... wasn't all that quick, to be fair.  I did get on toes quite near the start and drafted for quite a while before shifting to other toes and others then I ran out of toes and had a lot of clear water.  Then I was alongside someone for a long time, eye-level to eye-level breathing on opposite sides but facing each other so it felt a bit weird seeing their face every time I breathed.  To be honest, I didn't put a huge amount of effort into the swimming; for some reason that seems to happen most of the time despite the intention to go hard.  A little loss of direction on the final arm of the swim course as it was hard to see where the actual swim exit was, meant a little argy bargy with someone else as I careered more to the right than I should have, but I got with the programme in the end and aimed better for the final 100m or so.

Hauling out and up the long, grassy slope up to transition I actually managed to run this year!  I pulled down my wet-suit to waist level to make running easier, and sneaked a peek at  my watch.  00:39:xx  Oh dear!  That was pretty awful!  But still... the bike and run still to come and less faffing in transition could easily make up a couple of minutes on last year, so I just carried on and got on with making my way to transition... where I found my bag straight away - I did a proper recce and positioning run through when racking up, so I knew exactly which row and level to find it at.  Transition wasn't too shabby, though a little trouble with damp feet and socks despite towelling them a little.  Off out and onto the bike!

Here's where things weren't so pretty.  Being in the second, smaller wave and not being too speedy in the swim meant that it was a bit demoralising as well over 1300 people were already ahead of me on the bike course, and not very many people behind me.  With a bike course time hopefully a little under 4 hours, I'd be finishing the race pretty much in the last few people over the line even if I was doing well for me.  I put the thought away as quickly as I could and focussed on not falling off in the first few meters after mounting up, like a lot of people did last year.

As last year, the plan was to warm up a bit and spin for the first little bit.  There is a sapping rise not far out from transition and there's no point knackering yourself on that so early on.  So gently up that and it started to drizzle a bit.  Down the zoomy bits, picking up some speed and really starting to enjoy the bike.  First major hill and I got a bit of chain ring problem dropping to the small ring but after a couple of goes it went in.  More zoomy bit, then the evil descent that everyone is scared of.  Except it was a lot less scary.  And the no-overtaking zone (which was also a no tri-bar zone for safety reasons) was clearly staffed by a race referee who verbally alerted riders to the zone start.  At which point I'd already slowed down a bit and had some poor fella on a TT bike pop over a cats-eye alongside me and need to pull in to inspect his mighty steed for damage.  I really only sat on the brakes hard towards the bottom of the nasty descent and partly due to the fact that it was now raining appreciably and there were many many marshalls waving people to slow right down to the stop at the junction at the bottom.

The descent de-demonised and over with, I carried on to the last appreciable hill of the course and had a sticky chain ring shift again.  That started to niggle in my mind more until a very short little uphill which is sharp and really does need the small ring; I tried to shift down but it wasn't having any of it and I had to rapidly unclip and get off.  Not good.  I manually pushed the chain onto the small ring but now I was 1/2 way up a sharp hill and couldn't get on to carry on pedalling up.  So I had to walk.  Oh the shame.  Up to the top to a flat section and back on again.  But by that point I was really not happy with the state of not being able to even semi-reliably get onto the small ring.  There are a lot of hills on this course and I could either stop at the bottom of each one, get off, shift the chain onto the small ring, get back on and pedal up the hill; or I could hope it'd change down, have it fail and at some point fall off into a hedge or something.  It was also raining quite a bit by now.  And I looked down at my bike computer and the time was awfully close to 2 hours and I was not done with lap 1 yet.  And I'd been not doing so well with the uphills, finding it hard to get enough power into my stroke to get a reasonable cadence even in the lowest gear.  It was at this point that I mentally gave up.

I had a few km to decide whether to throw in the towel completely or not and as I finally approached the junction to either start the second lap or take the road back to transition, there was a lot of wet gravel and speedy pros shooting up the road back to transition 'cause they were done with lap 2 already.  I stopped, got off and talked to one of the many marshals.  With a complete mental wrench my decision came down on the side of retiring from the race and I welled up a bit as I told the marshal I was retiring; "Athlete 1048 retiring at check point 6." was the message into the radio and that was my race over.  I was so disappointed in myself for letting things get to a point where my bike wasn't reliable and I was so weak in the legs that the hills filled me with almost dread.  Climbing back on my bike, I hugged the left-hand hedge all the way back to transition to let the pros zip past; they wouldn't expect there to be a slow athlete on that part of the course, so I needed to give them as much room as I could.  The rain got heavier and heavier and the temperature dropped a couple of degrees.  I got cold.  Really quite cold.  And I thought to myself that I was quite glad not to be out on a second lap with this level of cold and rain as well as the other problems.

 Several people cheered and applauded as I rode past and it just made me feel worse.  They thought I was super-fast, when really I was a quitter.  Into transition and I racked up my bike, not really knowing what else to do but I thought it best to just keep it out of the way of everyone else still racing, and I went into transition to find out how to get my white bag so early and I was sent to the medics as there had been 4 people already come in with mild hypothermia and they didn't want me to be a 5th.  So I got a foil blanket to get me from transition to the tent with the white bags where my warm clothes were.  I was very glad of the foil blanket as I started to really feel the cold now I'd stopped putting any effort in, what I really didn't think of was the fact that my clothes were soaked through and I had no towel.  So I had to put my warm, dry clothes on over wet ones and that meant I really never warmed up properly.  The next 2.5 hours before I could get my bike was going to be less than fun, but one of the race officials ushered me through to the post-race hog roast and gave me a hot sandwich to help with the cold and then I went to try to find Mr TOTKat - lord alone knew where he might be at this point, but as pros were getting towards finishing it was likely he'd be around the finish chute.

And there he was.  Tears, tea, cake and cuddles made me feel better and we talked through what happened.  People came and went in the little cafe, hiding from the rain and cold while the poor Ironman staff and volunteers were out in it all for hours doing their jobs.  We toughed it out with me shivering and cold despite all the layers, but due to the wet inner layer, until it was time I could get my bike out from transition.  Sad to leave before the awards ceremony as there were plenty of friends and others we know who would be getting awards, but I really needed to get out of those wet clothes and to warm up properly so we headed back to the pub.

And that was Ironman UK 70.3 2013.  Not pretty; lots of mistakes leading up to it and plenty to look at for the next 11 weeks into Ironman Zell Am See/Kaprun 70.3 with the Virgin London Triathlon in the middle of that.  One of the mistakes is getting fixed next week - my bike is going in for a full service to make sure it's happier (though I'm likely to race these two races on my TT bike which is in great condition :o)).  The others I've talked through with myself, Mr TOTKat and coachRich and we should be in a good place for some solid work over these weeks for those fast, flat courses.  Two real positives I can take from UK 70.3 this year are; my fastest recorded speed on the bike at a whisker under 60kph and still pedalling at 94rpm at the time, and the famously tricky descent that scared the poop out of me last year was a lot less scary and I barely noticed needing to brake until the lower part of it.  Very happy with that!

Blue line - speed, yellow line - cadence, green line - elevation

Thank you to Mr TOTKat for being Iron Sherpa for this race, for looking after me, driving me, helping calm me down before and after the race and being generally a sweetie.  Looking forward to getting to the next race together!

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