I entered Wales Ironman late in 2016, my first Ironman with a view to completing a few events in the build-up to the main event in September. First event of the year was Brass Monkey half marathon with a PB on a cold wet January morning, followed by Manchester marathon in April which I had a reasonable but disappointing run due to a glute strain half way round. Onwards and upwards to the first of my big races of the year – City to Summit, Edinburgh to Fort William. An Iron distance duathlon not for the feint hearted with only 49% of people making it to Fort William. 3 weeks later (legs still tired) I took part in Thuderun – a 24 hour 10km relay race. Weather conditions were atrocious and of the four laps I completed, 3 were like running in gravy it was that muddy!
With all this in the bank, training was going extremely well for Wales up until 2 weeks before race day where I went over on my ankle whilst running. Luckily after an x-ray, it wasn’t broken just ligament damage causing massive swelling and bruising from half way up my calf down to my toes. My foot looked like it belonged to a zombie!
With this in mind it took the pressure off me on race day as I knew I wouldn’t be able to push for a time and I could actually relax. I slept well the night before waking just before the alarm at 0345, breakfast and in transition for around 0530, final check of the bike and wetsuit on ready for the off!
Being a self-seeded swim start I decided to aim for 1:20 – 1:25. I was lined up on the road waiting for the procession to move to the swim start, I checked my watch and it felt a bit loose so I went to tighten it and the strap broke – great! Luckily I still had my swim to T1 transition bag so put it in there for safe keeping. From this point onwards I was blind from any data on the swim, bike or run.
I exited the swim feeling comfortable (apart from the run on the sand between to two laps due to my ankle) in a time of just over 1:25. The swim was relatively calm but became a bit choppy on the out leg of the second lap as the swell increased somewhat.
I saw my family and support crew as I ran to transition. Before I went out on the bike, I was planning on painkillers to get me
through, but even though I had packed them I couldn’t find them. The bike leg started off well and I managed to make some time up into the wind on the way out to Angle and the first of the big laps round Saundersfoot was going well (apart from the severe wind) until on the second lap the pain in my ankle returned which slowed me right down as I couldn’t push on the hills. I finished the cycle in 7:24, an hour or more than I originally had planned. Back into transition and still no sign of the pain killers! I later found them in my cycling shoe when I was unpacking my gear when I got home! I started the run which initially I had a shooting pain in the lower of my leg which went numb to it after an hour or so but I was unable to run uphill, or at any great pace downhill. Wrist band envy became the nature of the run as I passed other athletes going in the opposite direction. I saw a few guys who I knew who were in front of me as it was good to see some familiar faces a few hi-5’s and a quick chat encouraging each other on. Finally I had my yellow band and only 2.5 miles to run downhill back in to Tenby. As I turned the final corner looking towards the finish line (which you have to run past 3 times prior to finishing – mental torture!), I was overwhelmed to hear those magic words “John Chambers you are an Ironman!” It was a relief to see my brother at the finish line who I think had nearly endured as much as I had having to watch me run in pain for over 5 hours, the feeling was quite overwhelming. 15:03 wasn’t the time I was hoping for or normally capable of but without the pressure of being able to or having to chase a time, it gave me the opportunity to really soak up the experience and make the most of the day. The support through the town throughout the whole day was awesome, I felt like everybody knew me cheering me on (it did help I had my name on my race number!).
I cannot explain in words what the atmosphere was like in Tenby as the whole town just embraces it, I have experienced nothing like it, especially as the Welsh National anthem was sung prior to the swim start by what felt like to whole town was spine tingling.
Thanks as usual to Steve Clark at OffThatCouchFitness for expert guidance and coaching and my support crew, Tim Bulman and the legend that is Dave Jackson who I am glad I could share my Ironman experience with.
Here’s to next year with a return visit to slay the dragon hopefully this time not on a dodgy foot, and finally, best wishes with the new arrival to Steve and Emily.
The unexpected Ironman
My entry to Ironman Wales was probably at short notice compared to most competitors. As a poor runner I had planned my 2017 season around working on that weakness and the progression was supposed to go ½ marathon > ½ IM > marathon, with a full Ironman to come in 2018. With Steve coaching since January we’d successfully crossed off the Retford half marathon and then Woodhall sprint tri as a warm up.
With a respectable time at Woodhall I knew I was in good form for the Castle Howard half iron in July, but as I set off for race weekend I could feel an illness coming on. Sure enough come Saturday evening I had the full set of cold symptoms and even as I sat sticking race numbers on my kit I knew there was no way I could race. I was so disappointed but Steve’s response to my DNS message was typically to the point: ‘rest, recover and find another’. Exactly what I needed to be told.
Now I don’t remember the thought process exactly but somewhere over the following couple of days the idea of replacing my failed ½ with a full IM set in. After some more discussion with Steve and some bargaining with the family I finally signed up for IM Wales with around 6 weeks to race day. Having lost nearly two weeks to illness, with no sea swimming experience and having never run more than a half marathon, this was going to be a challenge. Steve was there again with the concise encouragement… ‘Showtime’.
Standing in transition at 5:30am on a cold and damp Welsh morning I suddenly realised something surprising: I was calm. Training had gone well in the build up to the race and I felt ready to go. My race plan was simple if not ambitious: a 2:10/100m swim pace (well within my ability), conserve on the bike with a 65% intensity factor and then grind out the run with 11:00 – 12:00 minute miles. Basically, finish the race.
As we lined up for the march to the beach I seeded myself into the back of the 1hr20 swim group, reasoning that I could take it easy and settle in without getting swum over by too many faster starters. This worked out nicely and I was quickly able to find some space and get into a rhythm before starting to move up a few places.
Sea conditions on lap 1 felt OK if a little choppy further out in the bay. Somehow by lap 2 a much bigger swell had developed and I could feel myself being moved around and even thrown together with fellow competitors at times. Although this was probably nothing, with my limited sea swimming experience it felt like I was in an episode of Trawlermen. Even so it was great fun and I exited the water in 1:21, right on schedule.
Reaching the top of the cliff on the run to T1 I was amazed to see so many supporters; the atmosphere was incredible. After a very steady transition (lots of “did you lose your bike” type jokes came later) I was out onto the bike course.
The bike is my strongest discipline and I knew that this leg would be all about self-control. The target was 65% IF which meant sticking to around 200W on the power meter. However, the legs felt so good in those early miles that I quickly hit 75% IF and had to force a steady period to get back on track. Evidently a lot of competitors had the same idea because the first 20 miles or so felt like a race in slow motion.
The forecast high winds and rain came true and on a TT bike with deep section rims this was starting to feel a bit lively. The loop out to Angle was the most exposed and it became a game of spotting the gaps in the hedge and bracing against the inevitable wind blast. Once onto the second loop it was less about the wind and more about the road surface; wet and muddy with oil in places it took some serious concentration to stay upright. The regular climbs became a welcome respite from this and again the support from the crowds here was incredible.
I finished the bike leg in just under 7:22, slower than expected but not bad given the conditions. More importantly I’d hit my target 65% intensity and the legs were still feeling fresh as a result. As I headed into T2 I passed my parents and got a great lift from seeing some familiar faces. Now for the really tough bit…
Straight out of T2 I was feeling great. Passing my parents again and the roar from the rest of the crowd was pushing me on and as I started on the winding course around Tenby I checked my pace: 8:30/mile! Ok I’d better ease back slightly. Having got myself together I set about maintaining the planned 11:30 or so pace. On reaching New Hedges I picked up my first lap band which felt like a win in itself, but this euphoria quickly faded as I started counting multiple bands on others around me. Damn.
As the light faded and temperature dropped it was becoming a war of attrition. As the laps went on there seemed to be as many people walking as running, many with foil blankets and too many by the roadside receiving medical attention. This was the most brutal sporting event I’d ever witnessed, let alone raced, and anyone who even took the start that day has my total admiration.
I was going well enough except for the odd low spell where I would have to dig in to keep running. During these spells I had a fragment of the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling in my head to keep me going:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them: ‘Hold On!’
By the time I came into Tenby for the last time I’d learnt not to count the lap as nearly over, with almost two miles still to wind around the town. Even in that terrible weather the crowds were still huge and so supportive. I think I counted my lap bands at least 5 times on the run up to the finishing chute, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. All I remember about crossing the line was releasing some kind of primal scream and seeing the announcer literally taking a step backwards before giving me that awesome phrase…
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!
Ironman Vichy 70.3, Saturday 26 August 2017
We travelled out to Vichy in a couple of groups, some taking the ferry and driving, and a few of us flying via Lyon on the Thursday evening, staying near the airport then hiring a car to drive to Vichy on the Friday morning. We arrived in Vichy by 10.00am having had a very relaxed journey; I’d recommend it logistically. Registration was straightforward, the overall set up is excellent at Vichy, it was then on to check in to accommodation, put a bike together, have a quick spin then return to the event to rack and attend the briefing. My only complaint is they align the briefing with the pasta party and it starts at 7.00pm the night before the race. The actual briefing didn’t finish until nearly 9.00pm and the tent was fairly warm to say the least!
Having fought with swimming since starting triathlon in 2016, I really felt it had been coming together and I was looking forward to seeing how much I’d progressed; I’d had a 44minute lake swim at Stafford 70.3, then 42minutes at Marlow half-iron distance which I’d treated as my last warm up event in July. Vichy has other ideas though and has been a non-wetsuit swim on a couple of occasions in the last few years. To be fair to the event they kept a constant stream of information on their Facebook page although it only became apparent on the Thursday evening that the practice swim scheduled for the Friday (before the Saturday event) was in an outdoor swimming pool rather than Lac d’Allier where the event swim would take place; there would also be no warm up swim in the lake on the day.
Come race day, the rather expected announcement came at 5.45am that it would be a non-wetsuit swim as the water temperature was 25.1 degrees. In some ways this reduced the stress of faffing with a wet suit and would obviously help in T1. That said, I’d never swum in just my tri-suit and had no idea how it might effect my swim overall.
We arrived in good time and sorted final bits with the bike; Vichy has the added benefit of providing access to both red and blue bags the morning of the event. I joined the queue for the rolling start and was looking forward to the race, the weather was excellent and everything had gone well so far. One consideration was how much slower I might be without a wetsuit and if everybody had joined the queue in the position they might swim in a wetsuit or without. Either way, it was crowded swim and difficult to get into a rhythm. The course is a one lap lake swim and very well marked and easy to sight which helped. I tried not to look at my watch too much and just grind it out. With about 400m to go I felt slight cramp in my left ankle which was strange and I put it down to kicking more and just focussed on getting out the water. I was out of the water in 45minutes and didn’t hang about through T1. Having settled onto the bike I was fairly happy all things considered, but knew that a good bike was needed to give me a chance of dipping under 5hours which was certainly an overall target.
The bike course is rolling with nothing overly steep. It was a hot morning and having cramped slightly in the water I possibly overcompensated and drank a fair amount – I knew I’d need to stop at some point but was hopefully I’d hold out until T2 or the run. The last 6-8km are all downhill and at that point I knew my average speed was on target, 22.1mph for the course and 2hours 33 on the bike. T2 was again fairly swift and as the facilities were in use I waited until the first opportunity on the run.
The run course is largely flat and along the river, with a short section through Vichy itself and a short section through the event set up. It’s well supported and not too crowded. I found a rhythm and tried to maintain a heart rate of about 160 for as long as I was still on target time-wise. I knew I had about 1hr 35 for the run to dip under five hours and kept a careful eye on where I was up to and how I was feeling. With 2.5km to go I pushed on slightly and then again with the final km. I knew I was under 5 hours coming into the finishing chute but was very happy to run in 1hr 32 and an overall time of 4hrs 57.15.
Overall, the Vichy swim is well set up and an easy route in and out of both T1 and T2, the only slight unknown is if wetsuits will be permitted for the swim. The bike and run course are both stunning and well supported – aid stations are well positioned and well run. I had a couple of friends doing the full IM on the Sunday so we stuck around to watch and support – again the full seems like an excellent event (two laps of the half course for the bike and run).
I’d targeted Vichy 70.3 as my A race for the year, and following a change of jobs in April, then Stafford 70.3 in the middle of May I decided I needed some help with scheduling training and making sure I was heading in the right direction; which is where Steve comes in. I haven’t been with Steve all that long but from the start it has gone well. I’d explained what I was trying to achieve and Steve set out training to suit my goals and work around trips away and times when I wouldn’t have access to a bike or a pool.
It’s been hugely helpful having the ‘having to think about it’ taken on by Steve, and just grinding through some sessions knowing if sessions are ticked off then I’m heading in the right direction. It was also reassuring when I couldn’t squeeze sessions in that Steve would move things around to suit and remove the less important sessions to ease the schedule slightly.
Having gone sub-5 hours and having felt very comfortable to the end of the run, it certainly seems to have worked. I’ll look forward to working out my 2018 events and working with Steve to see how I can achieve the best possible results.
Had a great time racing in the SuperHeroes Triathlon down at Eton Dorney this weekend with my friend Ian, this year I did the bike and push (the run part, but in a wheelchair) components… Been to see Coach Steve Clark today to show off my medal, and have my weekly swim session in the endless pool, so that next year I’ll be able to complete the whole thing!
…After a battle with brain cancer, and the resulting acquired brain injury (ABI) that I have to deal with on a daily basis… we’ve (well, it was all Steve really!) sussed that my brain sends the signal to breathe, but not the one to make sure my head’s above water first (!!) resulting in near drowning every 20seconds! Steve suggested I try a full face mask/snorkel … and it’s working !!! Really enjoying my swim sessions now, and seeing improvements every week!
So towards the end of 2016, having already entered my first full distance event in ironman Barcelona for this year I had a little moment of madness and decided it would a good idea to enter another one and entered the outlaw. I’d managed to get myself through Olympic and half distances but decided for the full the best thing to do would be to get some help from someone who actually knows what they are doing so I contacted Steve and we met just before Christmas. One of the first questions he asked me was “why two?” and I didn’t really have an answer to it other than it seemed like a good idea at the time! I did my bike ftp test and we decided get Christmas and new year out of the way and then start properly in January.
Fast-forward to July and the 6-7 months of training I feel has gone well, I’ve managed stay injury free all year and I’ve set PB’s in pretty much everything I have gone for. I only did one event leading up to this point, which was the Ancholme sprint tri that saw me improve over that course by around 6 minutes on my previous best. Looking back now I maybe should have done a couple more just for my own motivation more than anything, I enjoyed the training but getting a result like that really pushed me on and made me want to keep working hard. Training wasn’t all plain sailing though, I did have to miss some of the sessions that Steve was giving me due to work, my job takes me all over the country staying away during the week meaning I quite often had no bike and during the winter months I had a few interesting runs…along Brighton front with freezing rain coming in sideways off the sea is a personal highlight! Also the being away from my family so much didn’t help, I felt incredibly guilty every time I came home on a Friday and I had a busy weekend of training. My wife Ruth has been nothing but supportive about me doing this but we have two daughters who are 8 and 4 and she also helps look after her elderly mother so me disappearing on my bike for hours wasn’t really helping her very much.
So it’s the Friday before and I’m at home sorting out all my gear trying to double and treble check that I’ve got everything I’m going to need and I get a text from Steve asking how I’m feeling about race day. I told him I’m looking forward to it but also have a few nervy thoughts in my head like am I really ready for this? It seemed so far in the future when I entered how has it come around so quick! My own results should have given me the confidence I needed but I guess most people question themselves and Steve assured me that I was well ready for it which did give me the little bit of reassurance I had maybe needed.
Saturday we had a pretty lazy start to the day, I checked I had everything for about the 300th time before loading the car and we set off towards Nottingham. We were staying with my parents at a campsite a couple of miles from the NWC in their motor home; they had gone over on the Friday and had taken my bike with them so the plan was to go meet them, leave the girls with them and then me and Ruth would head over to get myself registered and rack my bike.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached the NWC and it had turned out to be a lovely sunny day so far, after some not so great weather forecasts, it had been changing all week and I was in two minds on covering my bike as they are out in the open all night. The place was busy with people competing in a swimming event, as well as people registering for the Outlaw. We found the registration tent and I got in line, feeling nervous and excited – it was
all too real now! Once registered and I had been given my race number, timing chip, transition bags and a load of freebies (a top quality rucksack, I might add!), we had some time to kill before the race briefing started, so we had a look around the various tents, I bought myself an Outlaw hoodie and spent probably a little bit too much time staring at the finish line wondering what it would be like to finally cross it after a long hard day.
After the race briefing we headed back to the car so I could sort my transition bags and put the stickers on my bike ready to take to transition, I had written down what I was going to put in each bag but I still wasn’t sure that id got everything I needed. Walking into transition I don’t mind admitting I had a little bit of bike envy but I found my number and racked my bike. I decided, although we’d been assured it wouldn’t happen, to let a bit of air out of my tyres as id heard stories of them exploding in the night when the temperature dropped, and while doing this I noticed that one of the spokes on my rear wheel was twisted…which wasn’t exactly a confidence boost but at the time it was it was too late to do anything about it so I just had to hope it wasn’t a serious issue. I have since had it looked at and been assured that it wasn’t anything to worry about.
The changing tent was a new experience to me, it took me quite a while to find my number but as it turned out I think I got a little bit lucky on where it was in the tent. I was down at the far end and there seemed to be more room down there than in other parts of the tent which I hoped would help when it came to changing when it mattered.
Bike and bags dropped off I took one last look at the finish line and we headed back to where we were staying, I’d decided no to cover my bike in the end and I think about three seconds after we got back and got out of the car the heavens opened and it absolutely threw it down and continued to do so until the early hours of the morning. I know it carried on until the early hours, as I didn’t exactly get a great deal of sleep! The rain and the nerves over what was to come in the morning were bad enough but added to this was my eldest daughter Holly was unwell in the night.
I think altogether I managed to get around 3-4 hours sleep and before I knew it, it was 4am and my alarm was going off. I dragged myself out of bed and my long suffering wife, who loves early mornings…(hmm?) and must be sick of the word triathlon by now, drove me to the NWC. Once parked up, she walked with me as far as she could, leaving me at the transition area this was it I was now on my own. She went off to find somewhere to watch the start and I went off to my bike, put my bottles in the cages and pumped up the tyres and then joined the sizeable queue for the portaloos.
The transition tent was packed, people everywhere pulling on their wetsuits and I don’t mind admitting I felt a little bit intimidated by the whole situation. I got changed into my wetsuit and spoke a few words with the people around me, many of whom seemed to be just as nervous as me and with 6am fast approaching it was time to head out to the lake and get ready for the start.
The swim is by far my least favourite of the three parts of a triathlon; I just find everything about it hard which in turns makes it hard for me to motivate myself for it. I’ve done more swimming this year than I think I ever have before and that is pretty much down to training with Steve, if it hadn’t been for that I’d have found any excuse to not do it and as I headed out the lake I was looking forward to getting it out of the way.
The lake at the NWC has four recesses at the end where the start is, they’d asked us in the race briefing to seed ourselves in these based on our predicted swim time, fastest on the left down to slowest on the right, mine was between 60-70minutes which put me in the second one and I decided to hang back a little to see if that would help me stay out of the washing machine of the mass start. Looking back now I think most had the same idea as on a video Ruth took of the start it’s actually much quieter at the front.
So 6am, the gun goes, I press the button on my watch and away we go. For the first 500m my main focus was trying not to get kicked in the face, it was impossible to find any rhythm as there were just so many people trying to get the same patch of water. Once the field were stretched out a little this did get better and after we made the turn at the top of the lake I did seem to find a little bit of space for myself and the only thing I had to avoid were the little buoys that I think they have for when the lake is used for rowing races. I did a pretty bad job of avoiding them as it turned out but I thought to myself at least I’m swimming in a straight line! Carrying on at my steady pace, as I got towards the swim exit I noticed a couple of people heading out to start their bike leg, I have no idea how people swim so fast!
I reached the end of my swim and was over the moon with my time of just over 67minutes, I’d gone faster in training but that wasn’t with another thousand people fighting for the same small space!
The changing tent was a lot quieter than I expected it to be in T1, I had visions of people falling over each other trying to get themselves ready for the bike but I wasn’t like that at all. Wetsuit and goggles off and bike shoes and helmet on I headed out to find my bike. I’d written on my hand which row it was on, as I didn’t want to be the guy running around transition not being able to remember where his bike was.
The bike leg looking back now is a bit of a blur. I remember the first three miles around the perimeter road of the lake as I was trying to get some food in it seemed like everyone that had ever owned a bike was trying to get past me. I also noticed quite a few still in the water completing their swim and thought to myself I’m glad that bit is over. Out on the road I tried to settle into my ride as quickly as possible, a few passed me and I always feel, as I’m sure many people do that I should try and respond to it by riding a bit harder and had to stop myself from doing so, 112miles is a long way and I didn’t want to spend the end of it struggling because I had gone out to hard at the start. The next thing I remember is around the forty mile mark, for some reason I felt quite low at that point, I couldn’t say why but it passed quite quickly and I pedalled on.
There is not that much elevation in the bike course of the outlaw, the only bit you could call a climb comes at around the 50 mile mark. Id finished sulking by this point and I felt strong as I pushed my way up it passing a few on the way. The only other thing that stands out in my memory of the bike is the third and fourth time I passed through Car Colston. The organisers were putting on free busses from the NWC to there and the road through was lined with people on both sides creating a really good atmosphere and supporting and encouraging everyone who went past weather they knew them or not. I have to say the support and encouragement from marshals and spectators for the whole day was absolutely fantastic.
The final couple of miles back into the NWC are along a private road and the surface isn’t exactly perfect, I was forced to sit up and slow down, as there are also quite a few speed bumps. This maybe helped in a way as easing off for the last couple of miles allowed me to start thinking about the run to come and what I had to do in transition. Finally reaching the dismount line I climbed off my bike with a bike split of 5hrs 48mins. I’d wanted to go under 6hrs so I was well under that. The legs felt a bit like jelly for a few seconds but this soon passed and I actually felt not too bad, passed my bike to the marshal who would re-rack it for me and headed into the changing tent.
Couple of minutes in transition and then it was on to the run, or rather to find the nearest portaloo as I was bursting for a wee. The run starts with a lap of the lake and I was starting to look around for my family. My wife had gone back to where we were staying after watching the swim start and they were all coming back in the afternoon too see me (hopefully!) finish, I felt ok but I was looking forward to seeing some familiar faces by this point. The first familiar face I actually saw was my friend Pete, he told me I was looking strong, which I’m more than sure I wasn’t but it was nice to hear anyway and I headed off to do my lap. I set off at a steady 8.30min mile pace which felt ok and as I completed the lap of the lake passing the finish line to collect my first wristband the clock on the finish line showed exactly 7hrs 30mins. I had set myself a target of under 12hrs for the whole event and I remember thinking to myself I can go under 11hrs here I’ve got three and a half hours to cover 23miles, I can do that!
After the lap of the lake the run heads for the first of two loops out along the bank of the Trent into Nottingham, and just before I started the first one I finally saw my family for the first time. I have no idea why but when I saw them just for a few seconds I felt quite emotional, this soon passed thankfully and the one thing that stands out about seeing them was seeing my youngest daughters face light up with a huge smile as she saw me, I gave them all a high 5 and a big smile to try and show them I was ok and then it was out towards Nottingham. It was soon after this however that I started to struggle, each mile got a little bit slower and I was really finding it difficult to get even a gel and water in without feeling sick. I decided I would walk the feed stations and run (shuffle) between them, which served me well for the first loop.
Heading back into the NWC the crowds of people were a big motivation to keep running, I’ve said before how much of a boost I found their support but I really did find it a huge help. Another lap of the lake and as I passed the finish to collect my second wristband the winner was waiting to celebrate breaking the course record. I still had a half marathon to run and my own finish still seemed a long way off!
I saw Pete and my family again just before I headed out for the second loop, I gave them a big smile again trying to hide how much I was now feeling it but I don’t think I did a great job of covering it up. I did find out after I finished that my mum, who loves a panic at the best of times, had somehow come to think the run only went around the lake and when she hadn’t seen me for a while had convinced herself that I’d collapsed and was in the back of an ambulance or laid by the side of the road. The second loop out into Nottingham seemed to take forever and by this point all I was thinking was just keep moving forward, I found myself trying to see how many wristbands each person had and walking more and more. Pushing on I finally got back to the NWC and all that stood between me and the finish was two laps of the lake, I could hear the announcer at the finish line as people were having their moment and I knew it would finally be my turn soon. I saw my family again, they gave me their last words of encouragement before they headed around to the finish and I started my final lap of the lake, exhausted but motivated by how close I now was to the finish I managed to run the final two miles without having to walk. I can’t describe how happy I felt to be able to veer into the finish instead of run past it this time and crossed the finish line with a run of 4hrs 13mins and a total time of 11hrs 19mins and 20seconds going well beyond the target I had set myself. I had hoped to go sub 4hrs for the run but at this point I could have cared less about not doing that.
I collected my medal and t shirt and was ushered towards a flight of steps that I now had to climb, there cant have been more than 20 but it felt like climbing a mountain after the day I’d just had but once at the top I knew my family wouldn’t be far away and I was met with a huge hug from my wife and daughters.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, yes. The outlaw is a fantastic event and I can’t praise it enough it’s such a well put together event. Weather I ever will is another question, Ruth and the girls have been so supportive of me doing this and I could never thank them enough for that so I think it is time I return the favour and focus on them now, maybe when the girls are older and they’ve had enough of their dad embarrassing them and Ruth is sick of me getting under her feet I might give it another go and see if I can get under that 11hrs I briefly thought I could manage. So finally I owe a huge thank you to Steve Clark, he’s got me in the best shape I’ve been in in a long long time, maybe ever, and without his help and guidance there’s no way I would have achieved the results that I have, I’ll certainly never forget the day I became an outlaw!
On the 6th of January it was announced that Amy Grocock and I would be the new members of the Britcon/Off that couch fitness race team, what a way to start the year!
With the year already looking positive it was time to brave the cold and wet conditions on the 8th of January for the Lincolnshire Cross Country County Championships. It was a grim January morning at Biscathorpe. Having raced at Biscathorpe before I knew it was going to be a tough race with hills, multiple river crossings and cow poo to navigate. The race set off with a fast uphill start, after the first lap the top five positions had a good lead on the rest of the field. With the top 10 positions qualifying for the county team I had secured my place by finishing 5th.
Now that the County Championships were out of the way for another year it was time to head down under and visit my Family in Adelaide, Australia. With the National Cross Country Championships in sight there was no time to rest. The warmer weather made running a whole lot easier without having to battle the wind, rain and ice.
With my three weeks of sun out of the way it was time to focus on the biggest event on the cross country calendar, the National Championships. The Nationals were being held in Woollaton Park in Nottingham. The race was set to see a large number of runners of all ages from across the country compete. The men’s race was the last event of the day; it was now time to finally start. With some 3000 men on the start line it was time to tackle the tough 12km undulating course through, bog, long grass, hills and other runners!
The gun had gone and with no time to think the Race was on. With an aim of making the top 100 I knew I had to give it my all from the start. My Running coach, Laurie Bland, was counting me round on the first lap, “87, 88, 89, 90 YOU ARE IN THE TOP 100 NICK GOOO!” Laurie was excited to say the least. With the top 100 being an aim for the last two years we were both very excited at this stage but the race was far from over. I could feel my legs becoming heavier and heavier. It came to the last 3km lap and I knew it was going to be the most painful. With everyone wanting to achieve their best the pace quickly increased. The finish line was so close but yet so far away, I dragged myself over the line to finish in 94th. Both Laurie and I were over the moon.
The Inter County Championships soon came around, yet again another grim winter’s morning at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough. With a lot of miles in the legs and a slight cold I knew it was going to be a tough race. The men’s race was called and Lincolnshire team assembled in our starting pen. With a decent start I tried to hang on to the runners in front but this proved to be rather difficult. I managed to finish 59th overall and I was the 3rd Lincolnshire Lad home.
With the cross country season over it was time to introduce some more speed sessions into the mix to prepare for the summer season ahead. The first race on the agenda was the Mid Cheshire 5km National Championships closely followed by the first ever Ancholme Sprint Triathlon just two days later.
The 28th of April soon came, D-Day! I was longing for a new personal best. I knew I had to give it my all to break my previous personal best of 15:30 which I had been finding difficult to break since setting it two years ago. Ideally a sub 15 minute time would be awesome. To achieve this goal I knew I had to sub 3 minutes for every kilometre. Sure enough the first kilometre was very fast, with the top lads running off into the sunset I had to focus on hitting the next 4km markers in sub 3 minutes. Before I knew it I could once again see Laurie shouting and jumping up and down in the road. This was a good sign, with only a kilometre to go I gave it my absolute all to get the much wanted sub 15 minute time. The distance markers were becoming more frequent, 800, 600, 400, 200, I’d done it, 14:52! I couldn’t believe it. Finally all of the long, cold winter miles had paid off. Another goal achieved!
The attention soon turned to my first triathlon for the year, The Ancholme Sprint. My legs felt like jelly and so I knew I was going to struggle.
With a 06:30 registration I clearly wasn’t firing on all cylinders as I had to make a quick drive back to North Kelsey to collect my number belt and goggles which I had somehow forgotten. With the swim completed it was time to hit the bike. Unfortunately there were road works in Hibaldstow with traffic lights; this therefore meant that there was chance we would have to stop during the race. Typical, I hit two red lights which meant I had to stop; although time deductions were implemented for those that had to stop, I still had time to make up. T2 was soon over and I was storming down the side of the Ancholme and up and over the bridge. With my 14:52 5km still in my legs from Friday I knew I had a strong finish. I passed some family and friends on the bridge with a few high fives before dropping down onto the final finishing straight. It then became clear that I had won the first ever Ancholme Sprint Triathlon. With the Eton Sprint Triathlon only three weeks away I was feeling positive and ready to compete in the ITU qualifying race.
Race day soon came; Hannah (my girlfriend) and I took to the road and headed south to Windsor for the weekend. With perfect racing conditions forecasted, I was looking forward to the event. The race was situated at Eton Dorney Lake and the course was pancake flat and sheltered. With my number collected
it was time to rack my bike in position 443. I was actually quite lucky as I was in a really good position for transition.
There were 72 competitors in the under 30 category. A small start line in the water meant it was essential I got myself a good position to start the race. With the swim being my second strongest leg I got stuck straight in and swam the 750m course in a time of 9:54. This put me in twelfth place and gave me a good lead into T1. The bike was always going to be hard work as it is my weakest leg. Everyone that I had previously passed in the swim started to fly past me. I tried to hang on to a pack of riders for as long as possible and I eventually entered T2 with a bike time of 45:39. This had unfortunately put me way down the rankings but with only a 5km run left it was my time to put the power down and start picking off other competitors one by one. This worked to my advantage as I had an aim to push myself towards on the long two lap straight. With the finish line in sight I pushed hard hoping that I had done enough to qualify. With a 5km split time of 16:52 I had ran the third fastest run split time. This gave me an overall time of 1:03:25, a placing of 9th in my age group and 25th overall.
June was looking to be a quiet month for a change, with only two races planned. First up was the Woodhall Spa 10km on the 4th. Being a fairly flat course it was hopefully going to be a potential personal best race. Another one of my goals for the year was to break my personal best of 32:24 which had remained the same for two years. With some of the best lads in the county on the start line I knew I had a chance of breaking my personal best as I could try to hang on to them and push myself. The first 5km was run in approximately 15:30 with a group of 5 setting a reasonable pace. All I now had to do was try and achieve a similar pace for the final 5km to get that much wanted personal best. 1st and 2nd place increased the place from about the 8.5km mark and I simply couldn’t respond meaning that I ended up finishing in 3rd with a time of 31:34. This new personal best meant that I had achieved another goal for the year!
The last race of June was one of my favourite local races, the two lap Croxby Crawl. The Croxby summer series is a local race held in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The 4.4mile lap has a number of large hills and that puts manners into you! With unfinished business from the 2016 two lap race, due to the race being cancelled, I was on a mission to break the sub 50 minute barrier that had not been broken since the 1990’s. With heavy legs from the Woodall Spa 10km it was certainly going to be a challenge. I completed the first lap in about 24 minutes and had roughly 25 minutes to complete the second lap. I managed to finish in a time of 49:05 which was a personal best for the
course and the sub 50 minute barrier had been broken.
July was looking to be an extremely busy month with three major events. First of all was the Caistor Sting in the Tail 10km. The name says it all as the last quarter of the race was tough. Although it isn’t one of the biggest events on my yearly race calendar, it’s a special race to me as I was born and bred in Caistor. Having won the past four Sting in the Tail’s the pressure was on to say the least. My yearly inspirational text was received from my friend ‘Turbo Tom’ and I was ready to battle it out for another year. I was extremely nervous as everyone was hoping for a Caistor Running Club win for a fifth consecutive year. William Strangeway from Lincoln took the early lead and I thought that the race was over, with a 200m gap he had the advantage. As the race went on I began to feel myself slowly pick up the race and close the gap between William and myself. Before I knew it I had pulled a reasonable gap. With the sting in the tail approaching I was hoping that I could hold my lead to bring the win home for Caistor. As I began the final climb up into the Caistor Market Place, I could hear the Market Place erupt with cheer from all of my family and friends. I had done it for another year, with the added bonus of breaking my course record by 50 seconds.
With only a few days to recover it was time to take on the Lincolnshire Edge, my first standard distance triathlon. Located at Cadney it was practically on my doorstep. As the Edge was my first standard distance triathlon I was unsure how to pace myself for the distance. The fact I lived local to the course was to my advantage as I had rode the course multiple times on both my Scott Foil and Planet X TT bike. Due to the uneven, twisty roads and little rises I found myself setting a faster time on the Scott. I therefore chose to ride my Scott on race day much too many people’s surprise.
With the start called much to my surprise I had to quickly get my wetsuit on and get into the water. I started the swim at a reasonable pace and soon found myself in the lead. I exited the water in just over 20 minutes and entered what was an awful transition; I ran up and down the bike rack looking at multiple red and black bikes but couldn’t see mine, disaster! I eventually found my Scott and made way to the exit, I hit the bike expecting to be overtaken at any point. After 40km I was surprised to still find myself leading into T2. T2 was no better than T1, I was hopeless. I eventually managed to rack my bike after a few wise words from the race official regarding racking correctly. With T2 finally out of the way it was time to get the run under way, as I could see that I had a visible lead I set a reasonable pace but
slow enough so that I didn’t use any unnecessary energy. I finished the run in a time of 34:59 which gave me a total time of 2:03. With a first place already in the bag for the Britcon Race team from Steve Grocock in the sprint I claimed the win for the standard distance. As this being my first standard distance I was over the moon with a win but also felt I had a lot more to give, hopefully 2018 will see a sub 2 hour standard distance.
The last race of July it was the Grimsby 10km. As this was the second year the race had been ran, it had attracted a large number of entrants. My usual pre race warm up plans were altered slightly on the morning of the race, I was met by Turbo tom and his girlfriend (Emma) whom I soon found out was now his fiancée. Not only did I have to process that news, I then had to process the news that I am going to be his best man. This was not something I was expecting to hear before the race. The race started off at a steady pace but felt quite hard, I managed to stick with the lead pack until the 4km mark where 1st and 2nd broke away, unfortunately I couldn’t respond to the pace. My legs were fading and at the 9km mark I couldn’t respond to the break made by the 3rd place man. I finished the race in 4th position with a time of 31.35, just outside of my personal best. I was gutted to say the least as I was hoping to achieve a new personal best.
With the disappointment of Grimsby still fresh in my mind I wasn’t in the best of moods. A couple of days had gone by when I received the news that I have qualified for the ITU World Championships in Rotterdam. The disappointment from Grimsby was soon pushed to the back of my mind with the good news.
So that is the last seven months covered. With many different aspects of racing, experiences both good and bad. The next time I will be writing my race report, I will have had experienced the ITU World Championships. They will mark an exciting point in my racing career as well as being an experience surrounded by athletes that I can learn a lot from.
Bassetlaw Sprint Triathlon race report 06/08/17
Last year I achieved something I never thought I would, I really did not believe I could after many failed attempts. Little did I know that 2017 would be better than 2016.
I was a long standing supporter at marathons and triathlons and I’d become quite skilled at picking out my Husband, Andy’s running style or cycle kit as he raced and I watched, cheered and photographed him. Around 2010 I had a go at a couple of sprints but I dreaded going out on my bike, I complained bitterly to Andy who was like a spaniel on a lead desperate to go faster but cycling and running just seemed so hard. I wasn’t very fit or in good shape and I gave up. I didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t for me.
Fast forward to September 2015 I was still there supporting at Epworth end of season Triathlon, Andy and my mum were racing. I had a 2 year old and a 9 week old baby in tow by then and as they were both finishing, I was so proud of my mum, almost 60 and doing her first triathlon just because it went past her house and she could! I thought “I’m doing that next time.” I meant it too so I made a plan to loose weight as at a clothes size 18-20 I wasn’t going to find it easy. I told Andy my plans but I didn’t expect him to believe me as I’ve had many failed attempts at “sorting myself out.” I’m not really sure I believed I’d manage it myself but I was going to try.
In April 2016 I was on that start line, 3.5 stone lighter and I’d done enough training to know I would finish. I felt on top of the world as I finished that race, cheered on by my own little self made support crew, Sam, my baby, was only 10 months old and I had achieved so much in his life at that point. I was back at work, full time, 2 kids and feeling amazing. I had really transformed my life. I went on to do 2 more sprints that year and lost another stone.
For Christmas, Andy bought me a swim in Steve’s Endless Pool, I hadn’t asked for this present and I strongly suspect it was a present to himself in disguise as he came and swam too! I was looking forward to it though as swimming is my thing. My mum is a swimming teacher and spent a lot of my life up to 15 at the pool as a result.
After that swim, I looked at OTCF’s instagram page and saw a post about one of his clients who was achieving her goals and she wasn’t a superhuman, just a regular looking woman. I needed a bit of motivation to exercise so I emailed him about personal training and booked in.
I have been having weekly sessions with Steve and run, biking and swimming between. I can honestly say I love it! If I can training regularly then anyone can. I have 2 preschool children, Andy and I both work full time, we have a dog and a life outside of triathlon. The dog doesn’t have walks now, he has runs and my training is usually squeezed into a 1 to 1.5 hour opportunity when I am child free. We tag team it some nights, I go out on my bike first, Andy puts one child to bed, I get back, he goes out and I put the other child to bed and sort tea out. For us to both race the same race we need childcare and when your mum also races too, Grandma isn’t an option! We call in favours, pay for babysitters etc. Most people get babysitters for a night out but I get one to swim when Andy’s on an afters shift! Your kids make the best supporters and there is nothing like hearing “that’s my mummy” being shouted as you come into transition.
So to finally get to Bassetlaw Triathlon, this was a good test of how the training was working, I did the same race last year but this year I had 3 months of personal training under my belt. I felt a bit of pressure to perform, which I had never felt before when my only aim was to finish. Having made a significant effort to improve, I wanted to see an improvement. This made me a bit nervous. There isn’t much time to procrastinate though when you have to load two bikes on the roof bars, two kids into the car, a pushchair in the boot and all your kit. Before you know it we were there, we deposited the kids with Andy’s Mum at transition and were pool side.
I was in lane 3 and Andy was in lane 2 in the same wave which was very distracting, swimming next to not only someone you but are married to is quite strange. The swim went well and before I knew it I was in transition, and heading off on the bike. Andy overtook me at the mount line so off I popped chasing him out on the bike. The conditions were pretty good, it was a bit windy but nothing much. There were road works and I had to stop at temporary traffic lights which frustrated the hell out of the bloke in front of me but I saw it as a good chance to have a drink as the time would be deducted later anyway.
I felt great on the bike, I overtook people, which is a new experience for me and that feels so good (sorry if I overtook you and that made you feel slow, I know how it feels, I’ve been there). The undulations felt good as I was so much stronger on the bike that I had previously. Out on the run I worked hard but in a good way and I was still over taking people! I was amazed at myself, I remember thinking “I’m racing, not just completing this race” I pushed myself and I that was something I couldn’t physically do before, I didn’t have the capacity. Getting around was all I could do in the past.
As I finished I was excitedly greeted by Andy and the kids. He was surprised I finished so soon after him as he was accustomed to a longer wait!
And the results… 11th woman overall, 4th in my age group, 8 mins 17 seconds faster than last year!!!
When I first met Steve I told him stats don’t interest or motivate me, well the right kind of stats and results definitely do motivate me! I’m excited to see what’s to come. I’ve learnt a lot about myself and continually surprise myself. I have cancelled a facial because the sun was shining and I would rather ride my bike, I rush home from work to maximise my time to train before collecting the kids from nursery, I ride when the weather is good and I run when it’s not. I have been known to get the turbo trainer on the patio when Andy’s working the weekend and I have no chance to get out on my bike. Am I even the same person? Yes, a much happier version of myself who is making plans for bigger things next year!
My IRONMAN Journey 2017
It all seems a little strange being asked to write a race report for a flippin IRONMAN! Up until 2013, I had spent the majority of life donning the cricket whites or perhaps spoiling a good walk by hacking my way round a golf course. Yes, I did the London Marathon 2 and a half stone ago, but very little time and energy had been devoted towards individual pursuits.
Apologies in advance if you get to the end of this report and realise that you will never get that time back, but I do hope that I can pass on some seeds of contemplation, inspiration and action to others, similar to those which I benefitted from having read race reports in the past.
In late 2013, my nephew Charlie, then 2, developed Neuroblastoma (childhood cancer) and as you can imagine it had a huge effect on family and friends. We arranged numerous fundraising activities including a Coast 2 Coast bike ride as well as deciding to take on the ‘Bomber’ Quadrathlon. This for me was the first significant step up from the sprint distance which I completed for the first time in 2013. Charlie taught me so much during his recovery (yes, he is now 2 years into full remission), that despite how hard triathlons are, you are not fighting for your life! I saw Charlie a few days before the big day and asked him to write his name on my arm, so that I could glance down at any point and remind myself that things were not as hard as they sometimes seem. He was and continues to be my inspiration!
Hitting the button
Lucy, the kids and I were abroad in August 2015 when the registration opened for Staffordshire 70.3 2016. I remembered that we had just got back from the pool and I asked the question….Can I go for it? Lucy’s reply was ‘yes’, so I hit that button before she asked the next question ‘how much is it?’
The confirmation of entry appeared on my phone with a couple of seconds to spare…I’m in!
Fast forward 10 months and Staffs 70.3 is complete, got the t-shirt, medal etc In the build up to the event Ian McBride had given me a 15 point advice guide on completing a 70.3. Point 15 said….
‘BASK in your well-deserved glory, contemplate how the hell do people do a full then a few days later start looking for a full’n ’
I remember thinking during the 70.3 that this was my Everest. While Ian’s guide was really useful and much appreciated, point #15 would not be followed through! Lucy was more than happy with this as she was not at all open to the idea of going long!
Four weeks later on a Sunday morning I turned to Lucy and said ‘I think I want to do a full IRONMAN’. Oh shit, that wasn’t the response I was expecting, lets just say that she did not share the same excitement as I did. Looking back, I realise that this was just because she was anxious about me taking on this sort of challenge.
In August 2016, while Lucy was on a girls weekend away, some of the lads and I were enjoying a couple of beers in the garden when the subject of a full IRONMAN came up. Cut a long story short (thank goodness I hear you say), within 3 hours I had received ‘a sort’ of approval from Lucy via text (she must have had a few) so I hit that button!
I then set about making sure that the house was absolutely spotless, dishes done, washing out, kids fed etc before Lucy arrived back from her weekend away!!
The ‘so so’ Training
Despite making sure that I recovered ‘very very’ well following my 70.3 which was now over 2 months, I took the decision to get the family summer holiday out of the way first before getting into the ‘serious’ training. While up in Scotland, I did go for a couple of 3 milers and my goodness, did I drag my arse around that loop! I was out of shape and I knew it. How the hell was I going to complete 140.6 miles of torture?
After spending the next 4 weeks considering the answer to that question, I decided that I best get cracking. Up until Christmas I decided to get back into enjoying my sessions again rather than focussing on data and what Strava said!. I started getting into a training routine and set myself a goal of getting through the storm that is Christmas, with minimal waistline and multiple chin damage. I borrowed a Watt bike from work for the festive period and can honestly say that no clothes were hung over it!
This is when I suggested to Lucy that I get a coach, to basically guide me to the start line. We had a chat about it and agreed that this would be a good idea all round. I just felt that this would be the right option for me, making sure that ‘Big Brother’ was watching and that there was nowhere to hide. I had followed Don Fink’s programme for the 70.3 but it was too easy to adapt the sessions or skip one or two here and there.
I contacted Steve at Off That Couch Fitness and met with him just before Christmas to go over a few things and find out how it would work etc. We agreed that I would start a formal training programme at the start of February and before then to concentrate on base fitness.
Ok, here we are at the start of February 2017, I have 23 weeks till race day and after work I will be meeting up with Steve C for an initial meeting and bike test! The first 10 minutes confirmed that I had made the right decision in taking on a coach. While Steve asked me for details of any planned events (Paul Kirk and C2C in a day), he made it very clear what he wanted me to do alongside them and when…..excellent I want someone to tell me what to do!
By the end of that weekend I had test results for all 3 disciplines and Steve had indicated relevant HR zones and paces depending on the aims of each of the sessions to follow. Now I just had to wait for the sessions to come through on the web based application ‘Training Peaks’. I remember being sat on the couch (ha ha, unintended pun) one Sunday evening waiting patiently for the first week of sessions to come through – ‘they’ve been uploaded’ I shout to Lucy, she’s just as keen to know so that we can start thinking about how we are going to start juggling all the plates. Ok, 9 sessions, 3 of each and a total of 8 hours for week 1 – I’m buzzing with the excitement of starting this programme.
The Training Peaks software requires you to upload your training data before giving you a RAG rating. Basically, you want the screen to go green, anything amber or red, suggests that you have not fully met the training goal. This was just what I needed, no place to hide and even the most simplistic form of colour coded feedback fuelling my determination.
In fact, there was one particular Sunday night where we had returned home from a busy weekend away, and yes, a few bevvies had been consumed, often used to wash down plenty of fast food. Given that it was a Sunday, I knew that I did not want to push forward my 6 mile run to the start of the following week, and I certainly did not want a red flag against the session. I remember that run as the most difficult session of the whole programme, dragging my sorry backside round with a sore head and indigestion. I gave myself the biggest bollocking that night, but made damn sure that I got that green light!
Throughout the training journey, it was inevitable that I was going to think about possible timings on the day. While I gave this some considerable thought, the only real target was to give myself what I referred to as a ‘buffer’ time, just in case I happened to have a puncture etc, I did not want to go into panic mode. Each time I met with Steve C, I was interested to see if he would mention predicted times – he didn’t, and while I initially thought that this would help with confidence, I’m pleased he didn’t as it helped to take pressure away and focus on the enjoyment of the journey.
Despite the pressure that the training placed on the family routines, I was to lucky to have Lucy and the kids 100% behind me every step of the way. I loved the little things they did for me at various points during the journey.
In mid April, things took a couple of steps back.. During a running interval session with repeated 30 second sprints, I was half way through the penultimate effort, when I felt like I had been shot in the back of my right hamstring – ‘bugger’! At first I thought it was a disaster, but soon realised after a couple of days that I could still bike and swim with the use of a pull buoy. This is where I benefitted from having a coach and a voice of reason. Steve C text me and reassured me, making it clear that I should stay off the running for the next 3-4 weeks and that we would build again in good time for the day.
Throughout my training, I had the pleasure of sharing swimming lanes, open waters, and roads with others. The Coast to Coast in a day was not just an incredible experience but one which gave me that increased level of confidence on the bike. It was a long day in the saddle but a pleasure to share the route with Steve, Stu and Neil. I would certainly recommend it as a training ride.
The week before IRONMAN, I was fortunate enough to be able to swim the Lincolnshire Edge as part of my final preparations. It was just before we set off that I bumped into Steve Cannings. He commented on my ‘numbers’ being good (Strava) and that I had done the hard work. This sort of feedback is like gold dust to a newbie. He was right, I had followed my programme pretty much to the letter, having swum over 70 miles, biked 2500 miles and run approximately 450 miles…surely I was ready. This really helps to know and remind yourself of in those final days of preparations when the irrational thoughts try to creep in.
Steve Cannings also gave me that final piece of advice which stuck with me right up until the start line and throughout the race ‘Steve, don’t wish it to be over, enjoy every minute’!
My vision of it lashing it down on the morning came true, but ‘trust the weather forecast’ I kept telling myself. A quick Face Time call to my brother in Auckland, although I’m sure he couldn’t see me given that it was pitch black – it was just good to hear his voice and get that last minute encouragement from him. I went to see ALF and check his tyres were ok, filled the food bag up and made sure the aero bottle was topped up. Bumped into Steve Clark on the way to drop off my bag, quick hello and handshake was just what I needed. Steve Clark has an effective way of keeping things simple, no fuss, no drama.
Right, wetsuit on and white bag handed in, bugger still got my cap on, best go back and hand that in too (never got that back though). The next thing I remember was saying cheerio to Nick and Steve and finding my position in the self-seeded line up. I decided to go for the 1:15 marker. Then it arrives, AC/DC and Thunderstruck, ok, shit…its real now! I find myself rubbing my palms together and doing small jumps on the spot…I want this to start.
We nudge towards the start, the crowds are amazing and whether they know you or not, they give you that look as if to say ‘go smash it’ which is most likely intended to be received as ‘you silly bugger’. I press the button on the Garmin, quick check to make sure it has started and then before I know it I’m in the water and off, off, off! Thank goodness for that, I can have a wee now! I go to the left in the hope that everyone else is going in search of room out to the right – good call I tell myself, as I find space and get into a good rhythm from the start. Not much to talk about in the first lap, other than the corners were ok and I didn’t get a bashing. Shortly after the second turn I can see the exit and I feel myself putting in a bit more to get there. Out of the first lap and start the short run to begin the second lap, quick glance at the watch and it reads 35:00. Back in and I start again. This is where I start talking to myself ‘ok, don’t be an idiot and think you can beat that time, you can afford to go steady and still come out with a respectable time’. The resident demon on my left shoulder is responding with ‘nah, get your arse into gear and smash it, you could go sub 1;10 here’. The resident angel on my right shoulder won that debate with me exiting the water at 1:14. I take my cap and goggles off and start wrestling with my wetsuit before stopping to give Lucy a kiss as I go by.
I find ALF and tell him that he best be on his best behaviour. I had made up a peanut butter wrap and left it on my handlebars, having taken Steve Dolby’s advice and stick those up my tri-suit legs for later on in the ride. I’ve mounted and on my way with a yell from Nick Fish to ‘have good ride’. Over a couple of speed bumps and at the third I lose my aero bottle, ‘hmm, that’s never happened’. With only 14 miles to the first feed station, I decided to just have my aero bottle so unless I go back for it I’m scuppered. I recover the bottle and as I try and re-position it I realise that the frame has cracked and there is no way it is staying in place. Ok, so I have no fluids for the first 14 miles and yes, I could do with a drink after that swim. Don’t’ panic, I tell myself, it’s not as if I have dropped a pint or anything, it’ll be ok – and it was!
My best man comes from Adlington, where the famous Babylon Lane or COLT Alley is, so I have fond memories of the place and was excited to get there first time round. Just as I was thinking that COLT Alley was a bit of an anti-climax, this guy on the bike next to me just said ‘next time round, it’s going to be bloody jumping’. He was absolutely right, exactly as the photos suggest, people spilling out on to the road with cow bells, banners, whistles and more. You file through the narrow gap in the crowd, feeling a million dollars.
At about 20 miles, the tummy started to rumble in ways that you would prefer it not to. This wasn’t the norm and I wondered whether the peanut butter wrap had been a bad idea. I had read the warnings about trying new things on the day and this was the one example of where I had fallen foul. Thankfully my stomach and all that is connected to it looked after me and after about an hour things started to settle down.
Looking back, with the exception of the bigger hills, the bike course has now become a bit of a blur – I guess that is a good thing really! Two things that do stand out are firstly, the times when I saw family and friends, especially coming back into the village of Adlington. I remember counting down from about 20 miles out, looking forward to this extra special treat. Seeing Lucy, the kids and close friends was just incredible and very emotional. I knew how Lucy was about this whole journey so I made sure that she was reassured with massive smiles. That high five from Jack was all I needed to get me to T2, thanks mate!
The second stand out memory was the words of encouragement received by spectators on the second lap. Instead of the usual cheers and shouts of ‘well done’ issued on lap 1, they were now starting to say things like ‘you’ve got this’. This was a massive boost to the confidence levels and with a little bit of thought, I was thinking ‘yeah, I have got this, I can bloody do this’. For me, it was a balance between getting excited and also remaining calm and measured about the fact that I still had a couple hours on the bike and then a marathon to do.
Everyone talks about Sheep House Lane and Hunter Hill as the real obstacles to overcome. Yes, they are hills and somewhat more challenging that what Lincolnshire has to offer, but they are ok. Having completed C2C in a day, I knew that if respected, these were not going to spoil my day out!
So, I passed Adlington for the final time, enjoying the carnival atmosphere taking place on Rawlinson Lane. Had it not been for the ruling about ‘outside assistance’ I may have accepted the pint offered by my best man Mick! Ok, so I have about 6 miles to go before T2, enjoy COLT alley for the last time and then go steady, don’t do anything daft and you will soon be at the Macron Stadium.
I hit the dismount line, got off the bike, albeit in instalments and somehow managed to work my way to the cycle racks. I’m sure at one point I would have preferred to get back on the bike. My initial thoughts were obviously directed to my lower back and how stiff it was, knowing that it would take a few minutes for me to straighten up, and I did. What was worrying was this new and sharp pain on the outside of my right foot, never had anything like that before. Oh well, with a total of 9 hours on the clock, I knew I had 8 hours to complete a marathon, and while I would not let complacency creep in, deep down I knew that there was a good chance it could be my day!
I didn’t rush in T2, in fact I was pretty calm about things as I knew if I hurried myself, I would forget something. Bit of food, washed my face and arms before slapping the sun cream on. One piece of advice that I would pass on to others is to take a lightweight flannel with you to tuck in your trisuit pocket during the run – just a simple thing like washing your face helps so much. Passed on the sun cream to a couple of other lads and made my way out of the tent and onto the run.
Ian had told me about the first hill on the run, which turned out to be a different hill to the one I had been expected. While this one was shorter, it was steeper. I took his advice and used this as an opportunity to straighten out a little more and have a little bit of an extended recovery from the bike.
As soon as I hit the main road I was into a run and for the first 4 miles I was able to keep to a 10 minute mile pace which I was quite happy with. Then I hit this period where I can only describe my mood as stubborn, fussy and diva like. While I had a couple of gels, they were not the ‘right’ flavour or I could not be bothered getting them out of my pocket and even if I did want to, I didn’t want to risk getting it all over my hands.
I was pleased that by the time I had arrived at the main loop my Kevin and Perry episode with myself had passed. I was now on the scalextric track as I referred to it, just 3 laps of this circuit and I’m over the line. Ok, reminder to self, 3 laps is 26 minus the 8 I’ve done, which equals 18 miles….bloody hell! Thankfully, I was in a strong place mentally, and just reminded myself that this was my longest run in training, but in this case, I get fed, watered, sprayed with water hoses and get to see family and friends along the way…you don’t get that on the Brigg, Scawby, Brigg, Bonby, Worlaby etc route!
Just as I entered the loop, I heard my name being shouted, it was Steve Clark aka ‘coach’…shit..stand up straight, get a stride on, look busy, smile etc. Steve shouted to keep going and while this was over in a second, my gosh did it help to refresh the focus and spur me on. It didn’t take long for me took me to realise that Steve was in fact 2 miles away from the finish line!
I was so lucky to have friends dotted about on the run course, some whom I had not seen for years and it was great to stop and have a quick chat with them before moving on. Lucy, the kids and the rest of the gang had positioned themselves in the town centre and it was absolutely amazing to pass each time to check in and have that time with them to assure them that I was feeling strong and for them to give me that much needed boost.
I was fortunate to speak to a number of people on the run, all of whom had an amazing story to tell and some who by simply knowing their chosen charity gave me some insight into their motivations and drivers. There were some amazing people out there and it was a privilege to share the course with them. The other people who are incredible are the volunteers who just keep going and ensure that they dish out the same encouragement to all athletes. The army cadets were particularly impressive, ensuring that they were so well organised with their refreshment feed station. They took particular delight in pouring water over my head!
While on the topic of feed stations, one bit of advice would be to not eat the tortilla crisps after you have left the feed station and no longer have any water…do you remember the cream cracker eating challenge? You know what I mean then!
I must say that I did warm to the volunteers who were issuing the lap bands. ‘Band envy’ is strong when you are on the course and the feeling of going through that final checkpoint and receiving your red band is amazing, you literally feel on top of the world, knowing that you are about 6 miles away.
The roads are now not as busy as they were when I first joined the loop. I had programmed my Garnin to just display running pace on the main screen, knowing that this would keep me on track. I figured if I was watching the seconds or distance tick over this might play with my head a bit. The overall aim was to get somewhere between 14 and 15 hours and I was confident that I was going to be close to the 14 hour mark.
It was at about the 23 mile stage as I turned back towards the town centre when I knew that I was pretty much there and that the next time I saw Lucy and the kids I would be running down that carpet. My pace started to pick up as I felt a new bounce in my stride, working my way into the centre of Bolton. This is where you can sense the well wishes from total strangers, noticing that you are the owner of 3 bands and that you have less than a mile to go. I realise that I’m grinning from ear to ear at this point, enjoying the various turns as you weave your way through the final stages of the run.
Bloody hell, I think…..that is the turning point to run down the carpet…..I check over my shoulder to see if anyone else is there and the announcer confirms that I have it all to myself…. “I’m on the carpet, I’ve only bloody gone and got to the carpet”.
This is it, just a few seconds of the journey left…a quick look to the clock which displays 14 hours and 6 minutes as I aeroplane my way into the finish line (I have apologised to Steve Clark for pinching his celebration) with a massive smile on my face and feeling amazing. As I cross the line, and this was not pre-meditated, I jump, clenching my fist before driving towards the photographer shouting ‘come on!’ (not sure where that came from, totally out of character), I’m buzzing, totally pumped, I am an IRONMAN!
I receive my medal and tin foil before being ushered into the tent for a jacket potato with chilli, which to be honest I’m not really too fused about. I collect my finisher t-shirt and head out of the tent to meet up with Lucy, the kids and friends. It was great to see them all and to also receive some outside assistance in the form of a bottle of Black Sheep real ale!
Looking back, would I do it again, absolutely, it was an incredible experience and a great day out!
I would not change anything about my personal journey. For those considering the challenge themselves, if you believe you can do it and you want it, then hit that button!
I decided to seek support from Steve at Off That Couch Fitness – best decision, he got me to that start line in good shape and with the mental mind-set that the hard work had been done. It was a pleasure to represent OTCF!
Thanks to all those who also helped with advice and support along the way. Thanks to those who trained with me at various points during the journey, you know who you are.
Thank you to all those who turned up to support on the day, especially the Fish and Hayton families, as well as the Moore gang from Adlington who made everyone feel so welcome and hydrated!
Finally, thanks to my wife Lucy and my kids Jack and Millie, your patience and commitment throughout has been amazing. Lucy, you put your fears and anxieties to one side so that I could realise my dream of being an IRONMAN. I am so very grateful for the selflessness you showed during the times where it must have seemed that ‘it was all about me’.
Time for me to focus on new and exciting challenges, but most importantly, to look forward to the enjoyment of watching others with their challenges. I will be back at Bolton next year as a supporter, watching a score being settled!
There have definitely been some highs and lows this season and some valuable lessons learnt on the way. My ‘A’ race was right at the start of the season, the European Standard Duathlon for GB age group in Soria, Spain – I’ll come back to that one!
My first events were all warm up Duathlon races in preparation for Soria. At the start of the season I was a little concerned about two sore Achilles, so I transferred my first race, Rother Valley, over from a standard duathlon to a sprint distance to be safe.
In true duathlon style, it was super cold and windy and the race nerves were kicking in. The bike course was very hilly in parts and thankfully I had done a course recce the day before. I came in a second behind the first female but was out of transition before her and didn’t see her again on the bike. The 25k bike course was tough but I held my own and knew at this point I should win if all went plan; thankfully no disasters and I got off the bike in a good lead coming first and my Achilles survived.
The next race would be far more competitive as it was a National GB Qualifier Event this time being a standard (10k run 40k bike 5k run). I was familiar with the course so I knew what to expect. I settled into the first run middle of the pack. I knew I couldn’t keep pace with the front girls so ran my own race, then on the bike leg I picked off the girls In front and made up places coming into 3rd place as I got off the bike leg, unfortunately just getting pipped on the last run placing 4th overall. Great result as the previous year I came 16th overall and I had slashed over 10 minutes on my overall time. Automatic qualification for the Euros for next year in the bag – chuffed!
Next came a local sprint duathlon at RAF Scampton; I had won this the last 2 years running so always under a little pressure to do so again. The weather was very hot but thankfully not windy as on the air base it can be tough on the bike with crosswinds. I came in after the first run in 4th but very quickly overtook on the bike and achieved first lady overall.
Spain – Unlike the weather at Scampton one week previous the weather in Soria was horrendous, in fact the worst I’d ever raced in! I had looked at the forecast the day before, 40 mile winds and hail! So the disc wheel was a definite no. The first run was like hill reps but I was in a good position from the start, the bike leg is normally my favourite, sadly it turned out to be my worst. It hailed, blew a gale and most of the time I felt out of control, however, at this point was in silver medal position for my age group, and knew if I continued would hold position on the last run as I was stronger than the girls behind me.
Then it all went wrong. I was just finishing the last part of the bike leg when I slid on a white line on the roundabout and before I knew it I was on the floor, I had, up to now, never had an off on my bike. Thankfully as the weather had been so bad I had layers on so got away with a nasty gash, road rash and what I thought a torn calf. Thankfully it was just badly pulled but enough to stop me from finishing the race. Feeling very disappointed missing out on a medal and the race I’d been working towards, I returned home and entered the London Marathon ballot, and then a local half marathon at Sleaford which was meant to be a training run but got 3rd lady and a PB.
Next was my first triathlon of the season at Woodhall Spa and back on the bike after the fall. Always feels a bit rusty first triathlon of the season, but it was hot and an outside pool. The run was super
hard and was grateful of the locals with sprinklers on the run course. I came in 1st female and broke the course record which boosted my confidence after Spain.
My next challenge was open water! Having only done sprint triathlons I had not ventured into the murky waters, so decided to enter an Olympic Distance at Ripon. I was very nervous about the mass start and having only been lake swimming twice this was a different ball game. The start was fine, then I got tangled in so much weed the man in the kayak had to rescue me as it was dragging me down!! I pulled myself together and got back swimming – I was happy to get out the lake. Cross winds on the bike leg was tricky with a disc but by the time I got on the run I was flying and felt great realising how much the track sessions were paying off. My overall time 2 hours 30 which after such a poor swim I was very happy with.
After the open water experience, I thought the best way to improve was to enter an Aquathon. The start was more brutal then Ripon but I settled into the swim, controlled my nerves, and nailed it. Transition involved rolling around on the floor to get the wetsuit off, but made up time on the run, sprinting round the circuit and coming in 3rd lady.
It’s been an eventful season so far; more open water practice and longer events in the pipeline. I have my eyes on a half Iron Man and who knows maybe the full distance! Watch this space.
Having had a busy 2016, racing at Kona was always going to be hard act to follow. So this year was never going to be a big (Ironman) year. This year hasn’t been my typical slow start to the season, no, this year has been even more pedestrian than usual. Decorating, illness and the Wife’s London marathon seemed to take up the first quarter of the year. First up was a few Time Trials, both with Lincsquad and at Gainsborough and quite deservedly I was a fair whack off my previous pace. I Kidded myself on that a minute off the pace and a bit of ring rust was to be expected especially as last year’s TTs were a non-starter due to weather and roadworks. In all honesty, this was just an excuse for partying a little too hard since Hawaii. Having your ‘A’ races in October like the previous two years (Barca 2015, Kona 2016) allows you to build up through the season at a more relaxed pace. The drawbacks of this of course mean you’re not really firing on all cylinders mid-year. When October comes and you are at your peak, all lean, mean and raring to go, the season has all but finished!
As the year’s progressed, my TT times have slowly improved and several wins have come my way. Still a way to go to get back to PB potential though. In early spring the Race Team, yet again received great news that Britcon were sponsoring us for another year. Coach & Captain Steve Clark recruited two new additions in Nick Martin and Amy Grocock who have further bolstered the team. I can’t say how much this support means to us all and we’re proud to be wearing the Britcon colours and have Steve’s support.
With this in mind I thought I’d better enter a few events and hopefully return Britcon’s favour. I entered the Lincolnshire Edge sprint and also tried to get in the oversubscribed Cleveland Steelman, but to no avail. I settled with another local event (Hatfield) a half Ironman distance event called the Leger Man run by ‘Race Hard events. I certainly had no regrets.
First up on the agenda, was to cram a few long rides in as I found by chance and rather last minute an opportunity to join the Brigg Cycling Club’s annual trip to Seascale for the ‘Coast to Coast in a day’ Sportive. This is an epic day of riding, some 150 miles of beautiful countryside with some testing climbs. This trip was made all the easier by some top class organisation from John Collingwood. This event could have been both the hardest and most stressful day due to the logistics of getting from one side of the country to the next. In fact, it turned out to be quite a pleasure. The weather was ideal, not too hot and not too cold but with a decent tailwind. John’s organisation and the familiar faces along the route made for a memorable weekend. Myself and Wingman Rick Stenton were happy with a riding time of 8 hours and 8 minutes but left us wondering where the best part of an hour had been spent that made up the overall time of 9 hours & 2 minutes? Punctures could only be partially blamed, the food stops were our weakness. Porkpies, baguettes, soup, sausage rolls and cakes to cobble dogs with. If I did it again I’d do exactly the same thing, it’s a long day in the saddle to just live off gels.
I would recommend this event not only for the fish & chips in Whitby and the drunken tales in the pub at the finish. But It is rewarding, you do earn that finishers medal. The mileage and hills are enough to test the strongest riders, but with a bit of training can be quite achievable for most.
I couldn’t resist the Lincolnshire Edge again this year. It’s a great event and as the crow flies is only a couple of miles from my house. Like last year, I banked on getting a decent lead on the swim and bike as I knew I hadn’t done a great deal of run training. Luckily it went to plan and I came away with the win by a couple of minutes It was a good day for the Britcon OTCF RT as Nick Martin also won the standard distance.
As mentioned earlier I found myself in the Leger-Man quite by default as my first choice, the ‘Steelman’ was full. Nevertheless this local Half Ironman was a great substitute event and one for all to consider for next year. For the second event on the trot I found myself leading the swim and bike which I can’t grumble about but I must remember to listen more carefully at race briefing to what the route involves and which buoys to swim to and roads to bike down. The 2nd lap on the bike was tough. The wind picked up and my average pace dropped by a couple of mph. This left me questioning if I’d gone out too hard? I carried these negative thoughts into the run and despite an 8 minute lead I was overtaken after 5 miles. I couldn’t complain I hadn’t done nearly enough run training and even on my best day I was no match for the winner. Fortunately I was able to run comfortably and hold on to my 2nd place overall to find myself on the podium for the second time in a fortnight.