The big one – The first A race of the year and the first Half ironman event I have ever participated in.
The build up was brilliant – I have never been so prepared for a race as I was for this one – mainly thanks to my coach Mark (www.ironmate.co.uk).
My wife asked the big question Saturday evening while we were at the hotel we were staying at for the event. We were going to rack up etc together and she was going to watch me swim , T1 and watch me start the bike and then she was going to go back to the hotel, sort the room, book out and come back for the end of the bike and watch me run. So how long would the bike and the event take me?
Swim was the easiest to estimate – 40 – 45 mins, bike could be as fast as 3 hrs 15 mins but could take 4 hours – it was a bit hilly, it rained heavy the night before so some of the roads there was water laying, so caution on the fast descents, the run 2 hrs 15 mins would be good but again could be as slow as 2 hrs 30 mins plus. The run is still my weakness. Plus transitions my best time in a absolute dream event would be just over 6 hours – but it could be a 7 hour job!
Alarm went off at 4.15am, breakfast, shower, fluids, pooh, more food, more fluid, put racing kit in, off again for another pooh!
We arrived at racking in plenty of time. The racking and the park in total was very water logged. It had rained heavy all night and the place was very boggy.
I was ready to start at least 15 mins before the race briefing and was so focussed it was unreal. I went for a little walk, near some bushes (again!)
The race briefing was short and sweet. Two key points, due to the strong current and heavy water fall over night 1) the swim had been reduced from 1,900 metres down to 1,500 metres, 2) it was very wet everywhere, be very careful on the bike, some sections of the roads were almost flooded, don’t go too fast on the down hills etc.
The Elites and up to 39 year olds would start at 7am, the rest (Ladies and over 40’s) start at 7.15. I asked if the second race could get in for a warm up – yes. Excellent.
First wave were off, we waited five minutes then were allowed in the Thames. Water wasn’t too bad, strong current against us on the lap up to the turn bouy and then with us on the way back. I decided to start at the back. Although swimming is my strongest discipline I wanted to start easy and smooth and build and you cannot do that at the front being swum over.
Off went the klaxon and off I went – actually nowhere fast – I was so far back no one was moving, it seemed like ages before I did a few decent strokes. I very quickly got into a good rhythm and started progressing. To overtake I had to go far to the right by the boats moored on the rivers edge. But this was OK as it helped sighting and meant I was out of the main flow of the current. I went past a few swimmers early on, then some more and then more, I was flying. I saw the turn bouy and had to double check it was the turn bouy as it was so quick. I swum to the middle, turned around the bouys and swum back in the centre of the river taking full advantage of the strong current. I hit the last bouy in no time and was pulled out of the River and noticed other people being pulled out with yellow swim caps meaning they were in the first wave!
Turns out my swim was 21 mins and 4 secs. Even though it was reduced to 1,500 metres that was still fast for me. That swim placed me 80th in total and 19th in my age category.
In to T1 – It was still raining slightly so I put on my cycling top with my gillet in the back pocket, glasses on, helmet on and as suggested I held my shoes while we run across the water logged field and put my shoes on at the bike mount line. T1 2m 14s.
The bike was good. Strong, well paced, nutrition was spot on – energy bar very hour, one bite every 15 mins, and energy drink every 10 mins or so at the correct swig rate. Was hilly out of the park on to the A4155 to the first roundabout, straight over and the roads were wet, all the way to the next roundabout, turn right and along the flat – was a good pace, I was overtaking more people than there were people overtaking me (which is always a positive). Then big hill number 1 to the turn point which would be the furthest part of lap one. The hill was not as bad as I thought, it was long and hard but again a good gear and a good rhythm and it was done before you know it, around the roundabout and down that hill. And it was a fast descent. The momentum kept me going down the hill and along the straight. Back to the next roundabout, take a left and again a fast ride back to the last roundabout. Lap 1 done – one of the two long laps. Part of my breakdown of the race was breaking the 86K bike was actually 2 big laps and a little lap and one of the biggies was done. Lap two seemed harder, made me realise the pace I had put in on lap 1, so I backed off a bit and had a more subtle lap 2. Then just the little half lap. I decided to push it again. The thought of the run was hanging over me but I thought if the run is slow I need a fast bike leg!
A few more k’s and the bike was done 3 hours 12 mins – the bike was the 172nd fastest ride in total and 50th for my age – not bad but not as fast as I thought. T2 2 mins 14 secs.
Now the run. I set off and felt good, very comfortable. The run started along the footpath by the river. It was very muddy and puddles everywhere. Then we hit what I have trouble describing, to say muddy would be an understatement. There was mud on mud on mud. I slowed right down to avoid slipping over. A lady run past me and within a few yards she was over. It was ridiculous, you had to slow down so much it was almost walking pace. This section lasted for about 1K. Then we went on to gravel and all the stones clung to the mud on your trainers. So your feet were double the weight.
This was so draining so I was very happy to complete the first lap in just over 30 mins (30 m 34 s). Wave to the wife who was cheering me on like I was at the Olympics.
Lap 2 was even worse, muddier due to the other runners who were now on the loop. Runners were holding the fence to try and save themselves from falling so all the fence was hanging over the mud. It was hard going and I nearly fell, in fact I am not sure how I saved the fall as my legs went from under me.
Lap 2 was 33min 51s. Wave to the wife. Lap 3 was the hardest. I walked through the mud part, I figured running wasn’t that much faster than a brisk walk and it was a lot safer. I am racing in two weeks at Bournemouth so no point in running in mud and risking a fall and injury (plus I was absolutely knackered). My feet weighed a ton yet others were managing it better than me and were overtaking me and I was going backwards (which is always the case for me on the run). Lap 3 was 37 mins 23 s. I barely had the energy to raise an eyebrow to the wife.
Lap 4, weirdly was better, still hard in the mud and more walking but less than I did in lap 3 – in fact I was overtaking those who over took me in lap 3. I had my Garmin on and so I knew the pace, lap times and overall time and I could see a total run time of 2hrs 20 mins was doable so I think that is why I found something to push myself on lap 4. Lap 4 was 38 mins 17 s – the slowest lap out of the four but not as slow as i thought it might be when on lap 3! This included stopping to pick up my timing chip which had fallen off due to the mud. So the run was 2 hrs 20 min, 211th for the run or 56th for my category.
And there was the finish line and an end of race hug from the wife. The photographer took my photo and asked me to hold my race number up as it was folded over, the lady took my timing chip. I stopped the Garmin watch and I noticed the time on the board at the finish was 6 hrs 10 mins. That was good.
The trainers were a bit worse for wear …
Then it was back to the River for a dip to clean myself off and try to salvage my trainers
So 6 hours 10 mins – very impressed and happy with this. The only disappointment was the fact the run was so hard due to the mud, if no mud could I have done a sub 6 hour?
Then the results were on the web later that day. I was down as a DNF as the timing chip hadn’t registered my finish as I was holding the timing chip. I have emailed the company doing the timings and they will look at the photos of me finishing.
All my times of the official timer are here plus my unofficial last lap puts me on 5 hrs 57 mins. I think this is accurate as their laptimes for my other laps of the run are the same as mine as I was hitting the lap button when I crossed the timer chip matt.
The 6 hours 10 mins on the clock at the finish was the start of the first wave and I started 15 mins later. So a sub 6 hours for my first Half Ironman and including a mud bath!
I am well happy.
Now the bad news.
Once home I started to feel a pain in my right knee. More a niggle then anything else, but as the day and evening went on it got worse and worse. By bed time (9.30pm) I could barely put any weight on my right leg, I woke up at 4am with a stabbing pain everytime I moved my leg and I mean even if the movement was 1mm.
Now I am on the settee, leg raised with an ice pack, praying it won’t last long.
So a total of 5 hours 57 mins, putting me 175th out of 249 finishers and 56th out of 84 finishers for my age group.
A great achievement – big thanks to my wife for her support, input and patience with me and my training. And thanks to Mark my coach for getting me ready.
Thanks for reading