Ironman UK was my A race of the year. This was the one where I wanted to put last years disastrous race to bed. My goal was to podium my age group (30-34) but I was not aiming to qualify for Kona. Not because I don’t want to race the World Champs but because I knew the US would not grant me a visa because of my past criminal convictions for armed robbery.
Don’t get me wrong, I will do everything I can to get to Kona one day as it’s my dream to race on that island against the best in the world. But because this isn’t really possible for a couple more years at least all I care about is a podium and trying to win my age group. This is what motivates me to train everyday. Rain or shine, wind or frost, I want to be the best I can be and win, win, win!
Last year I went into Ironman UK completely over trained, ill with a virus and I literally fell apart on the day and massively under performed. It was a harsh lesson but from failure we can learn so much. I now know I had to suffer this fate to fully understand my mistakes and really start to improve. Although it affected me deeply, it was the motivation I needed to push on to enter the race again and prove to myself I could live with the best.
There were lots of positives that came from that day last year. Although I knew I had the capacity to train hard, unfortunately this was also my achilles heal. So I needed someone with real Ironman experience to keep me from smashing myself to bits every session.
So after much deliberation and soul searching I hooked up with Keith Sanders from Perform Fitness to see what a structured program could do for me. And it was a great move. I have to be honest and say this is something I never thought I would do. I always wanted to run with the ball, do it all myself and not rely on anyone. Period. It was my dream and nobody else’s.
As I said it was a great move and taking that leap of faith was probably the best thing I’ve done recently to improve. It has given me structure in my training and having someone monitor my progress whilst offering advice has made a significant difference.
Back to race day….
We made the decision before hand to swim in the 1 hour start as Ironman UK has now got a wave system instead of a mass start. I’m not that fast at swimming but thought I could get a draft for 1k or so and pick my time up nearer the hour. I’m not sure what happened on the swim but found myself on my own so I just relaxed and got into a rhythm. It felt okay and when exiting the water I was told by a guy in T1 it was 1h.05m – which was spot on for the time I was expecting. Unfortunately at the end of the race it was actually 1h.10m and I was a little shocked but apparently it was a couple of hundreds meters longer than normal.
Then out of the water and onto the bike……
Even in the water you could tell it was hammering down with rain and when exiting the water it felt like a monsoon. I ran to T2 and made the decision to sack off the wet clothes and do it hard core in a Tri suit. This was an error in judgment. Visibility was terrible and the road conditions were poor and I was soon regretting. Initially it was freezing and I was piss wet through but thankfully the cloud cleared after an hour or so…… to be replaced by a brutal head wind – and I wanted the rain to come back and the wind disappear!
This is the point where I know my lack of race experience cost me. Looking back I don’t think I adapted well to the weather conditions. I think I should have pushed harder into the wind to keep my moving speed up but all I kept thinking about was last years race. I didn’t want to blow up like last year and look like an idiot so I just sat on the same power wattage even though it felt way too easy.
It was also hard to judge where I was in the race at this point as I passing the pro women and ended up in no mans land and hardly saw anyone bar the people who were still on their first loop. Looking back I was way, way too conservative and it cost me. I eventually finished with a bike spilt of 5h.41m which is well off what I know I can do……Live and learn.
Although I know the bike was slower for everyone else because of the conditions, I know I should have still been a lot faster and am ultimately disappointed with the time. But I’ve learnt not to be a slave to the power meter and to use feel where necessary.
At the end of the bike I get to T2 and see how many bikes are already racked and think “shit I’m well down here”. So trainers go on, I smash a caffeine gel back and if I’m honest I went out too hard for that first 5k and panicked – I was trying to chase people down way too early.
Then I remember Keith saying to me the day before Ironman that it’s a game of patience – it’s a very, very long day in the office.
So I went back to the plan and settled on a 4.20 pace. I knew I could hold this comfortably and relax into my rhythm – and immediately started to eat people up in front of me. Then when I first hit the loop it was a strange experience as I seemed to be passing everyone and no one was coming past me. I didn’t have a clue where I was in the race at this stage and just kept trying too see who had 2 or 3 arm bands on as I was chasing overall positions now.
Then another thing popped into my mind – the sub 3 hour marathon. I knew it was on from my training and my legs felt strong. I looked at my Garmin at 21k and saw 1h.28m. My heart rate was low so I thought let’s have a go. My decision was backed up by seeing Keith on the last loop and he also told me to drop the hammer. I pumped out an 18 something min 5k and really thought this is on today. However running out of Bolton you have a cruel hill and mixed with the head wind it just killed my speed. I now know if I paced the start a bit better I could have dipped under 3 hours – which is one of my biggest goals in an Ironman. But it was not going to be today as my split dropped off and it was just about getting to the finish line as fast I could.
The final time was 3h.07m. I was a bit gutted but apparently it was 500m longer than normal so perhaps I could have dipped 3.05 🙂
When crossing the finish line I felt a mixture of emotions – happy about a solid race but disappointment, as I should have finished much higher up overall. My bike leg really did let me down and I know I have far more to give on two wheels. I just need to gain more race experience as two Ironman races is not enough to be ultra sharp when it counts.
I will be racing a lot from now to the end of the season just to gain that experience of racing in triathlons. Next year my main goal is Ironman Frankfurt and Wales. I know I will carry on improving over all 3 disciplines and race well – and break that 3 hour marathon.
One of the biggest things on the day I’m proudest of was sharing the experience with Darren Davis, the prison officer who helped me whilst I was inside. It was great to help him and support him whilst he realised a dream
I’d also like to say a big thanks for all the support on the day from Matt, Terry Jack, Seb and Keith my coach and his wife Katie. I really appreciate it.
Thanks for reading