Weymouth’s half-IRONMAN was a test – how much have I improved in the last three months since Staffordshire?
The answer is: time-wise, by two measly minutes. Mentally and strength-wise – a lot.
Following June’s IM 70.3 in Staffordshire (my notes here), I had three key areas for improvement:
- Push harder during the swim to improve the overall time and feel like I’ve invested more energy into it
- Do not let go in the second part of the bike – keep going hard, the legs will be fine
- Go quicker during the run – use up all of the energy left and feel like I’ve given it my all for the day
I’m happy to say that I have achieved all three points.
It was an interesting weekend, to say the least. As I am writing this two months later (procrastination, anyone?), I’ll stick to essentials.
We arrived in Weymouth on Saturday morning, just in time for the race briefing. After registration it was time for racking of the bike and the gear. The rules are clear – you rack your bike, you get the ankle chip that will be responsible for your timing the next day and that’s you done, you’re not really allowed back into T1 until the day after. And when it comes to your bike gear bag, you’re not allowed to access it at all after you had racked it. So when I exited T1, all upbeat and motivated, I realised that I messed up – I didn’t put socks into my bike gear bag. Pro and experienced triathletes do the bike and the run sockless – I’m not there yet and I like the comfort of a dry sock after the swim. So yeah, that was a problem. I was yet to figure out how to deal with it – for now, we went on a hunt for carbs. All of the restaurants in Weymouth city centre were packed with triathletes and it was getting really late, so I had to settle for a wrap from McDonald’s and more fruit scones from Tesco (my guilty carbloading pleasure <3).
We stayed at a little hotel not far away from the finish line. It wasn’t a newly built, shiny place – rather someone’s old house that got turned into a few bedrooms for rent (the owner still lived in the basement – judging by the looks, he lived there for the last 100 years). Last time I stayed at a hotel like this was in July, when I did an Olympic triathlon, one of the Castle Triathlon series. Back then I woke up with a back pain from sleeping on a bed that was way too soft. I had to swallow some painkillers and even after I had done that, I still suffered during the race. So this time, having learned from that rather unpleasant experience, I slept on the floor of our bedroom. If you have never tried it – definitely give it a go. Sleeping on the floor is super comfy! (And I don’t even mean it in an ironic way).
The alarm clock woke me up at 4 AM and announced that it was time for a banana and some porridge. Quick breakfast and back to sleep (or a nap) for an hour. Woke up again just after 5 AM, put on the tri suit, got all of the gear ready and went to T1 to put bottles with isotonic drinks onto my bike. By then I had figured out what to do with the socks – I decided to put them on the pedals of my bike. I was a bit worried, as the rules of IRONMAN clearly state that you’re not allowed to mark your bike in any way. I hoped that this little enhancement to my bike would go unnoticed, as it didn’t really make it more conspicuous. In the end it didn’t really help me with the location of my bike, anyway.
The race was supposed to start at 7 AM and there was still plenty of time for a warm-up. 10 minutes jogging, followed by some relaxed sprints to get the body going (plus awaken the metabolism and ensure no surprises during the race, if you know what I mean) and I was ready to put my wetsuit on. I got a lot better at it since my first time (you can see the video on IRONCONSULTANT’s Facebook page) and was doing it slowly and systematically until this happened (white arrow):
I wasn’t sure what the impact of that tear would be in the cold September sea in Weymouth and there was nothing I could do at this point apart from embracing the new challenge and deciding to learn as much as possible from it.
There is a tradition at the IRONMAN events in the UK (or maybe everywhere?) – they all start with AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ banging through the speakers. When those riffs began flowing, the adrenaline emerged and I was good to go.
Both in Staffordshire and in Weymouth there was a rolling start – you were supposed to self-seed, i.e. position yourself in the group with a similar estimated swim finish time as yours. Based on my swimming progress in the last few months, I positioned myself cautiously around the 37-39 minutes mark, knowing that it should be perfectly achievable for me. I also came to Weymouth a week earlier, just to feel how it was to swim in a sea (previously only swam in lakes), practiced when to start the actual swimming, when to run with knees high etc. I went through that over and over again before my turn.
The rolling start meant that there would be 5 athletes starting every few seconds. When I got the signal from the race official, I ran into water, knees high, until I reached the a-week-earlier-practiced depth and started swimming. It was a bit of a carnage, with people’s legs everywhere and I got hit a few times (sorry to those that I must’ve kicked as well…). The water was pleasantly chilly, the hole in the wetsuit didn’t make any difference and I tried to settle into my practiced pace, trying to avoid other swimmers’ legs.
There was one thing I did not practise last week and totally did not expect. It was 7:something AM in September. And we were swimming east. I could not see a thing because of the rising sun! There were supposed to be buoys that we were to swim around, but the sun made it impossible for me to catch even a glimpse of them. My goggles were not polarised and so I had to settle for hoping that the people in front of me had a better grip over navigating in these conditions… That was the case, to some extent – I had to correct the course multiple times to get back to swimming towards that sunny buoy. Once I turned right, the sun was not a problem anymore and I could concentrate on the pace. I focused on it so much that when I checked my progress towards the next buoy, it appeared way to my right, which meant that I was off course again and I had to put in some extra meters just to get back on track. That’s definitely something to still work on – navigation. Plus, getting polarised goggles for such occasions might help as well! I exited the water at 00:41:22, six seconds quicker than in Staffordshire and a lot slower than I thought – I guess the additional meters due to navigation did not help.
The run to T1 was a lengthy one – I had plenty of time to take off the top of the wetsuit, goggles and the cap. I eventually got to my bike bag, got the towel out, crawled out of my wetsuit and started putting bike gear on, including a long-sleeve shirt bought the day before as the race briefing and the expected bike leg air temperature had scared me into purchasing IRONMAN-branded merchandise. The plan to solve the socks problem was following: run to the bike without socks and with shoes in my hands, get to the bike, put on socks, shoes and off I go. I was optimistic, as my bike was just outside of the T1 exit, which had been a nice surprise the day before when I was racking it. Short run, socks on, mount the bike and smash it. Simple, right?
Just as I did not expect the sun during the swim, I didn’t expect that the setup of T1 will change and that the amendment will affect my plan dramatically. It turned out that to get to my bike, I couldn’t just run out of the T1 tent in a straight line – there was a barrier there now and I had to run all around it and back again to reach my BTwin machine. It looked exactly like this:
I started running barefoot, but the little rocks were too painful for my soft feet (yep, I’m a whiny little …, not an IRONMAN), so mid-through the run I put the shoes on, reached the bike, had to take them off again, put on the socks (at least they weren’t removed by the marshals) and put the shoes back on again. As a management consultant, a big part of my life is streamlining processes and making them more ‘lean’. This was the polar opposite of Lean and another good lesson for the future – either train yourself to do the whole thing without socks or remember to put them into your bike bag! T1 took me monstrous 07:33 (as compared to a similarly lengthy 06:23 in Staffordshire) and I finally got out there.
The race briefing didn’t exaggerate – the bike leg was chilly. I was satisfied with my long-sleeve merch purchase, as well as with my race strength. The swim didn’t cost me too much energy (even though I had pushed hard, as per my goals at the top of the post) and I was flying on my basic BTwin bike, shooting past co-competitors and generally enjoying the views, as well as the ride. This time I was a lot better with the feeding stations – slowed down a bit, didn’t hit anyone, got what I needed. I was pounding gels as I had practised, at least every half an hour – during training rides if I didn’t do that, I suffered from liver pain, so I really wanted to make sure that I was in the best possible place nutrition-wise before the run. My liver doesn’t like running on depleted energy levels.
The ride was smooth. The total elevation gain was 846 meters, which was more than the 717 meters in Staffordshire. Again, as per my goals, I kept on pushing during the second part of the ride, ending up with a decent average of 32.2 km/h. There was a large hill towards the end of the route that was a true killer and my heart rate climbed with me as I climbed standing upright on the pedals – that didn’t break me, though, and I was pleased to finish the bike at 02:49:22, more than a minute quicker than less hilly Staffordshire (02:50:34). Another marginal gain, but psychologically a huge one – I definitely felt stronger, which I should hopefully benefit from next year during the full distance.
I came into T2 knowing already what awaits me – just reverse the run to the bike from a few paragraphs above. I took the long-sleeve shirt off for the run as the sun was beautifully warm in the town and exited the tent pretty quickly. I made a snap decision to stop for a quick visit to the portaloo, knowing that I’d lose some time, but at least I would be more comfortable during the half-marathon which ensued. T2 – 03:10 (02:23 in Staffordshire). Would be quicker without that stop.
Only 21.1 km to go – 3.5 loops in Weymouth city centre, with loud spectators encouraging everybody to give their best. As per my goal no. 3 post-Staffordshire, I planned to deplete myself completely during the run, push beyond any boundaries and comfort zones. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to my half-marathon PB of 01:34:20, but I wanted to be able to proudly say that I gave it all.
I was maintaining a healthy pace of about 4’40-4’50 mins/km, on track to take me to the finish line below 01:45:00. After about 1.5 loops out of the 3.5 I felt the nature calling again. So I faced the choice: do I lose a bit of time in the portaloo and have more comfort during the rest of the run or do I just power through the need, hoping it would go away? I chose the former – when a portaloo was in sight, I already had my tri-suit unzipped for a quick pit stop. With processed porridge out of my system, I was able to continue the run with an increasing pace. The 3.5 loops were quite nice, especially because they gave me the opportunity to see my wife cheering me on three times – that’s always a great sight and a powerful motivator.
Finally, after 01:45:04 of the run (01:48:02 in Staffordshire) I crossed the finish line with an overall time of 05:26:29. I beat my Staffordshire time by two minutes and 21 seconds and was truly done – happy that I felt so tired, knowing that I ticked all three boxes that left me so unfulfilled after my IM 70.3 debut. The marginal time gain was secondary at this point. It took me a while to get up from the floor and have a pulled pork sandwich and some watermelon. They tasted gloriously.
And that was the end of my triathlon year – the first ever in my life. 1 x sprint, 2 x Olympic, 2 x half-IRONMAN triathlons. On top of that, two marathons and one half-marathon. Such a crazy ride! And one that will reach its pinnacle in 2018 with a full IRONMAN distance.
Believe me, I kept this post to essentials! 🙂 Thanks for reading and thanks a million to my great wife for all of the support, all the time.
PS. I’ve picked my full IRONMAN next year – Barcelona in October 2018, here I come! I thought it would be Wales, but my coach advised against it – so far listening to my coach has only done good for me, so I accepted his advise this time as well.
PS2. On a lighter (and a slightly childish) note – and as a business advice – when you design something, make sure you look at it from every possible angle and perspective, basically ensuring that every side of it conveys the right message. Something clearly went wrong with the reverse of the IM 70.3 Weymouth medals (see picture 2 below)…