It was great meeting fellow Ironman-virgin Andy Baxter. We’ve been chatting for ages on email etc about our training and hopes for Ironman, so it was a real pleasure to meet up with him. We had a good chat, registered together, drove the bike course––nice and flat!––then went for a top meal at a local pub.
Tried to get an early night, but as usual pre-race I was nervous and excited and found it hard to sleep. Combined with a gurgling fridge in my room, this meant I probably only grabbed 3 or 4 hour’s sleep all night. But that was as expected, and when I got up at 5 am I was excited and eager to get cracking.
We reached Grafham Water around 6:15, racked our bikes, then went for a coffee and a last-minute toilet visit.
I’d made no secret that the swim was what worried me so much. This was only my 4th time in open water, and it was a 1900m two lap swim. The buoys looked a very long way away. We had a few minutes to acclimatise––the water wasn’t cold at all, actually felt very nice––then we were lined up on the beach ready for the off.
A handshake with Andy and then … BLAAARP! The horn went and we were away. I held back a few seconds to let the confident swimmers take off, then I ran into the water and started swimming.
On that first lap I did experience a few panicky moments, but I tried to swim relaxed and easy, control my breathing, and most of the time I breathed bi-laterally every three strokes. Turning the first buoy was a bit of a fist-and-foot-fest, but I didn’t get banged around too much. I completed the first lap in 20 minutes and headed out for lap two. This was much easier––though my sighting needs some work––and I was out of the water in just over forty minutes. Aiming for a 45 min swim so that was good.
T1––took an age to get my wettie off, then number tore from my number belt. It felt like ages until I was ready for the bike (turned out I was in T1 for seven minutes, could do better Mr Lebbon!) The first couple of miles on the bike weren’t great, I felt wobbly and tired from the swim and had one of those frequent moments that I experience in any race, no matter what the distance … “I’m not sure I can do this!” But that calmed down, and by the time I was 5 miles into the bike I was feeling good! Settled at an 18mph average, pleased with that, and I was careful to assess how I felt every few minutes. Started eating and drinking (Powerbars … euch, but they seemed to work), and settled into the bike route.
It was a lovely course. A long, slightly hilly ride to the main lap-course, then it was two 20 mile laps back and forth through picturesque villages. The Olympic race had started by now, and soon after I got into the first lap I noticed a lot more bikes coming from the other direction. This made riding a bit hairy at times––some drivers not very patient of cyclists, especially when there are dozens powering back and forth along the same road.
Some nice gear there. Bike envy? Just a little. But my aluminium Giant never let me down.
I soon noted that ‘gently undulating’ in Cambridgeshire means ‘flat’ to a Welshman, and whenever there was even a slight incline I found myself overtaking a couple of people.
It was a good ride. I stuck at around 18mph all the way, overtook maybe 20 people (only one overtook me, a nice lady on a tri-bike), and by the time I hit T2 I was feeling really good. The weather was pleasant, and I was into T2 in under 4 hours. Looking very good for a sub-6 hour time!
I started on the run feeling really confident. Bastard Garmin took over 2 miles to find satellite reception, so I ran on feel (no bad thing). I’d been aiming for a sub-9 minute/mile pace on the run, anything below that I’d be happy with, and when the bloody watch stated working at last I realised I was actually running well under 8-minute miles! That surprised me and I eased back … but not too much. I really felt pretty good, so I kept going, paying close attention to any potential cramps (there were none … thanks Saltstick!)
It was a lovely scenic run out around the lake and back, with a few surprising hills. I overtook quite a few people on the run, had some nice chats with some of them, and by the time I reached the turnaround point (and asked for a nice cup so tea … but no, a plastic cup of water was all I got), I realised I was well into a sub-6 hour race.
The run back was loooooong. The last couple of miles dragged, but I never went over a 9 minute pace. That’s really good for me! I’m not a fast runner usually.
And then the end was in sight. At bloody last! I crossed the line in 5:44, faster that I could ever have hoped for my first half-iron distance race. Watched Andy finish, then had some coffee and a natter.
I’d aimed for 6:30, had hoped for somewhere around 6:00, so was delighted with my actual result. 41 minute swim, 3:02 bike, 1:52 run. Top stuff. It shows that the training is really paying off. It also shows, I think, that the last two weeks when I hadn’t been training at top volume probably paid dividends, and that a long taper is probably a good thing.
Could I have done it quicker? Maybe. I could have shaved 3 or 4 minutes off transitions. If I’d learned to piss during the swim I would have saved the 2 minutes piss-stop on the bike. If my OW sighting was better I reckon I could have cut two minutes off the swim.
But I’m thrilled. A great race, and a real confidence boost for Ironman in just over 7 weeks. The race itself was very well organised, the routes well signed, marshals excellent (aren’t they always?). One slight criticism is that medals were handed out at registration, which sort of takes away from the occasion when you finish, and the medals themselves aren’t branded, just stock ‘Triathlon’ medals. I don’t do this for the bling, but it’s nice to have something to mark the occasion.
A great race––hats off to NiceTri events––a pleasure meeting Andy at last, and one more goal ticked off. And it was nice to have a few shouts of ‘Go Pirate!’ on the way around!
Not long now until the big day!