Booking my Kona Ticket – Ironman UK Race Report

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Ironman UK 2009 - 30-34 Age Group Podium

Effectively I’ve spoilt the ending right from the title! I’m too happy with the result to wait though. Almost exactly one year after going full time I’ve booked my Kona slot! It took a while, but I’ve achieved that particular goal. Just got to remain healthy and get myself there in good shape now! However this is supposed to be the full length race report from Ironman UK.

As mentioned previously I arrived in Bolton on Thursday so I could get ahead with my final race preparations. Various factors made Saturday a little more stressful than I’d like. Poor weather made bike racking a bit more of a process than expected with some confusion as to what was going on. The briefing happening at the (dry) Reebok Stadium also ensured more driving about too. When I eventually got back to the hotel I was feeling pretty tired! Probably a good job as I needed an early night for an even earlier start.

The alarm went off at 3am on Sunday morning, of course I’d woken a few minutes before anyway and was up. The usual routine of race breakfast (Powerbars, bagels and some honey) and getting ready then off to the race start. Got there with plenty of time so quickly had the bike set-up and was ready to go. I felt remarkably calm and relaxed despite the fact this was my last chance to get a Kona slot. Sure I had big goals and expectations, but I knew what to do. I can only assume it’s from racing so much this year, each race is a little less daunting.

At around 5:30 we were herded towards the swim start. With a narrow entrance to the waterway it took a while to get everyone in. I made sure I was up front and in the water early. Whilst it let me warm-up a little and position myself as I wanted it also allowed me to get quite cold! I’m sure I described the water as quite warm the other day. It is when you’re swimming, but floating there you start to feel the temperature. I moved myself about to keep warm and kept a position up front and not too far from the inside of the field.

A short delay to get everyone into the water and then we’re off. I went out fairly hard, but rapidly set into a comfortable and manageable stroke. I’ve been happy with my swimming of late and was feeling strong in the water. Then just after the second turn as I started the next lap I got a cramp in my right calf as someone tapped my foot. Never had that in open water before! I paused and looked up only to be told I should be swimming in the direction I had been swimming in by the guy who’d tapped my foot. I was somewhat bemused by that one!

Experience with calf cramps in the pool have taught me to relax the muscle and let it ease out. I was quickly off again, but nervous as to whether the calf would hold up. I could feel twinges in the muscle and was very aware of where the cramp had occurred. Frustrated by this and being told where I should be swimming I pushed harder. Soon moving into clearer water. The field thinned out around me as the second lap progressed and I had few people to draft off. I felt strong though so wasn’t worried, I was optimistic I was moving up the field.

When I got to shore I nervously stood and found that whilst I could feel the cramp in my calf it wasn’t too bad. So I jogged up the slope at a relatively easy pace. The time on the watch was a shocking 1:08 which left me with no doubt that the swim was long. I knew not to worry about this with plenty of time to claw back positions. Besides it’s not until you see how many bikes are in transition you know how you’re doing anyway. I only need worry if half of the bike racks were empty!

It was a long trip back up to transition so plenty of time to check out how the leg would hold up. So far, so good. My T1 time is pretty poor and I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly I was very tentative in changing – again worried about my calf. Secondly I didn’t prepare my arm warmers well so putting them on damp arms took ages! I won’t make that mistake in the future.

Finally out onto the bike and it was pretty much straight into the climbing. Any plans to keep my heart rate low to start went out the window. A short block of hard riding had me above my planned heart rate ceiling. I did allow myself some spikes on climbing so I wasn’t going to worry. Also I knew there was some good down hills to recover on a little while on. The wind on these faster downhill sections proved to be fairly substantial though! Honestly I prefer that though, t gives me something to work against!

My first lap went by reasonably uneventfully. I was a little bemused by a couple of competitors who during the first 30km went back and forth with me a bit. A lot of the time though they rode parallel chatting and blocking the road. I’m not sure if they thought it was a social ride! Every time I went past them they stuck with me and eventually went ahead. Towards the end of the first lap I finally moved off and left them behind to continue their conversations. Their choice to race like that, but blocking the road was pretty inconsiderate.

The second lap became quite lonely as other riders thinned out. I reassured myself it was a good sign I was well up the field! There were few targets to chase so focussing on my heart rate was a useful tool in managing pace. I was passed by a competitor on a decent TT set-up at some point in this lap. He proved to be useful in helping push me on as I paced myself off him. Somewhere in the third lap I started to really feel good and made a move. The last 30K I pushed hard for a better cycle time. Part of me wondered if I could have pushed sooner and another part worried this would take something from my run.

You’re spared details about heart rate for now as I’ve yet to download it. I think the bike was very slightly on the long side like the swim. Overall I’m happy with my performance there, though still feel I’m taking the bike too easy. I had no problem with my nutrition of Mule bars and High 5 at the intensity and the result is a very solid run so perhaps I’m getting it spot on. During the run I pondered how I need to work to improve my power output at the lower heart rates I race Ironman at. Rather than racing at a harder effort, improving the performance at my Ironman effort is the goal.

I arrived back into T2 with a 5:36 bike ride. Not spectacularly fast, but I suspected respectable for the course. I was glad to have ridden with socks on if only because it meant running through the mud was more comfortable when I left the shoes on the bike (though I was disappointed to see I’d rubbed a hole in the toe of my favourite socks!) Again I didn’t race transition too fast taking my time to get ready. I was relying on compression socks to keep the earlier cramp in check. It had been fine on the bike, but I still worried!

Nerves seem to have defined my race. I spent most of it concerned I was either going too easy or too hard, eating enough or too little… The list could go on. Whilst I hadn’t had those pre-race nerves to deal with it was almost like I was running scared. A simple mistake could ruin any chance of making the podium and having a chance at Kona. I focussed on sticking to my plan and trusting it would work. There was nothing else I could do, I was relying on having portioned my effort and nutrition to allow a strong run.

Getting out onto the run my calf was fine and I settled into my rhythm at a comfortable aerobic pace. It soon became apparent there wasn’t a marker for the first mile. It didn’t take that much longer to realise I wasn’t going to be able to track my pace this time. I didn’t panic I’d keep going by effort – ultimately that’s all I could do. I moved past a handful of runners in the first few miles and then it was pretty lonely until I started seeing the pros coming the other way. To keep things interesting I counted them hoping to work out my place. Unfortunately the convoluted route in Queen’s Park put a stop to that.

At this point I knew I was somewhere in the low 20s and also now that I was heading back knew how close my nearest competitors were. I consciously put a little bit more effort in wanting a bit more gap. All the time not wanting to blow myself up. Whilst my legs ached I reminded myself that I’d conserved a lot of energy, was well rested into this race and was keeping my nutrition up. I had nothing to fear and should keep working, no slacking off.

Back at the far turn around I caught another couple of runners. With no markings for those on the final lap I could no longer gauge my competition. A young athlete came past me quickly so I picked up pace a little, but clearly couldn’t match it. I hoped he was on his first lap so still fresh! A bit further along a woman came past at a good pace and I pushed myself to go a bit harder. Looking at my watch it was 2:30 and I figured I probably had 40 to 50 minutes to go. It was time to push to the end like in Roth.

I regained some ground on the woman who’d passed me. On the nasty climb out from the canal I overtook the young guy who’d been running so well earlier, clearly he’d been going far too hard. Then I passed the woman on the way into the park for the second time. She too had lost some of her pace. I was also pleased to have passed one of the pro men, that’s less common! Further into the park and I pass another pro woman and know I’m moving up the field. I kept pushing harder, even up the tough little climbs. With no idea how much further the finish line was from the park I was trusting I could hold out.

Coming to the end of the park section I was going full out. I kept the pace high through the back streets hoping I didn’t have far to go. Asking how much further of marshals and spectators did little to clear things up. I was committed now and had no choice, but to keep going. Then there it was, the finish line! I kept the pace up down the chute, relieved to be coming to the end and already happy with my performance. Credit has to be given for a spectacular finish line even if I can remember little of it!

That was it, race done! My final time was 10:04:47, not a PB, but on such a challenging course a decent result. I got my medal, hat and t-shirt. Then I realised I could check my position from how many t-shirts had been handed out. More importantly I could get an idea of my age group position! I was pleased that it looked like third. I’d made the podium. A check of my phone confirmed this along with a message to let me now that the Kona slot would roll one and I’d get it! To top it all off my run time was under 3:10 and well up in the field!

I spent the rest of that day satisfied with my performance and looking forward to the awards ceremony. After that it was just waiting till earlier today when I got my award, my first ever Ironman trophy! I was happy enough with that, but then got to top it off by accepting my Kona slot! It was never planned this way, but in the end it was my last chance that delivered me the spot. Now I can’t wait to get out there in October!

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