In the bottom-right corner of my race number is a small logo branding me sub-9, Elite. The moment, last year, when I ticked that box on the Challenge Roth entry form seems naively optimistic now and my concerns focus more on whether I break the ten hour mark rather than the nine. Of course I could claim I’m saving myself for Ironman UK, it follows exactly two weeks later, but that’s a convenient excuse. The underlying, and simple, point is I am not prepared to go sub-9; beyond that I am unsure of my performance potential, this season has yet to provide an opportunity to fully test myself. In light of this uncertainty, what do I want from this race?
With Wimbleball fresh in my mind I can definitely say I want to finish – no mechanicals, no incidents, cross the line in one piece. That shouldn’t be a stretch, even my worst experience on Lanzarote in May saw me complete the event. I need a better goal. I am wary of targeting a time, nervous following a period of poor performance and bad racing, it’s hard to make bold claims when in recent memory you’ve failed to back them up. I’d like a sub-10 race, but that really does feel like a stretch, so perhaps sub-10:30 is the safer choice. So I have a hierarchy: sub-10, or if not sub-10:30, and if not that, then finish; or more simply to race as well – as fast – as I can on the day.
Of course I have a plan that I hope will deliver that goal, wherever it lies on my hierarchy. It’s modest, less aggressive than previous iterations and it starts by placing myself to the back of the first wave of swimmers. I have no doubt that the genuine elites and those on target for sub-9 aren’t expecting a 1:05-1:10 swim; however my current swim form suggests that’s my goal, so behind them I go. Perhaps I can draft off an uber-biker or superb runner who expects to make up a lot of ground later in the day.
Roth is not an easy bike – there are hills to climb and it’s far from flat, but the smooth surfaces and overall gradients work for the athletes. When I last raced here, on road bike and training wheels, I managed a comfortable 5:05 without really pushing myself and I’d like to think that I am in shape to at least match that, if not better it with the far more aerodynamic Blue Triad and Zipp wheels under me. By the end of Iron Camp last week I certainly felt stronger, hopefully that training has been absorbed and will show itself on Sunday. I have the bike, if the legs are up to it, then yes, a part of me still hopes to break five hours. Not so modest.
What worries me most is the run. This year training has been better, but it has still been intermittent; the impact of racing Lanzarote, the lack of running at UK 70.3 and the subsequent Iron Camp mean the past month has seen very little time on my feet. It is a concern. If I learnt anything last year it’s the need to control my run early if I want to finish a race comfortably. Challenge Henley is the model for this – holding back, deliberately taking walk breaks and keeping on top of nutrition. It wasn’t fast, but it worked. Same principle here: hold back, go with feel, but take those walk breaks and remember the last few kilometres are all downhill.
I feel better typing this out. Lanzarote has played on my mind the last few days, but, put in writing, the plan doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous and I am better prepared than I was in May. Challenge Henley is the better comparison: weak swim, stronger bike and cautious run. For all my doubts, I think – potentially – I can still produce a solid race, though my previous Roth PB of 9:22 should remain safe.