OK, this has to be my longest post so I hope you’re prepared for it…
At the start of the year after some gentle encouragement from a good friend I chose to enter the Bala Middle Distance triathlon - being held in North-West Wales in early June. Bala isn’t a true half-Ironman (or as it’s officially called, Ironman 70.3) distance race (Bala is approx a 1.25 mile swim, 49 mile bike and 12.4 mile run - whereas Ironman 70.3 is 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run). I bought a road racing bike in March, and ignoring my recent calf injury have managed to get a reasonable amount of swim and bike training in recently so feel that my preparation for Bala is going well.
At the end of March my friend Stuart sent me an email that said the following:
Gotta be done as a training event -
(you can even skip the run if you are still injured - but let’s hope *not*)
The link took me off to a thread at the Runners World website where a few “Pirates” were planning on going to take part in “TTMan” (or TriTalkMan) a free, self-supported Ironman and Ironman 70.3 (half Ironman) distance event being held in the town of Market Bosworth, Leicestershire in May. The event was being organised by a few people over at the TriTalk.co.uk website forums and I thought this would be great training for Bala - especially as it was a slightly longer distance which meant that at Bala any psychological fears over distance could be replaced with other fears - i.e., the hills!
So, prior to the TriTalkMan event I’d managed to get in a couple of 40 mile bike rides and a 65 miler on my new bike so my backside was getting accustomed to the joys of a bike saddle! Swim training had been reasonable and running, although my best discipline, hadn’t been so good recently after getting injured during March.
I chose not to drive up to Market Bosworth and stay on the Friday night so went for the early start on Saturday (the swim was due to start at 7am). After getting home on Friday I spent quite a bit of time making sure I had absolutely everything I needed - food, water, bike, tri-suit, running shoes, GPS, etc. etc. Most of the kit was loaded into the car and all I had to do on Saturday morning was grab some drinks out of the fridge, put the bike on the roof and head out of the door.
I was up at 3:45am Saturday morning - now, I think I’ve only ever got up that early before to go on holiday, and today was going to be no holiday! As I headed off towards the motorway in the dark I was amused to see a number of Friday night revellers walking home or waiting for the night-bus to take them home. They were still out from the night before, and here I was starting a new day, with a 115 mile (two and a quarter hour) drive ahead of me.
I stopped at about 5:45am at some services on the motorway for a visit to the toilet and to grab a bite to eat. I’d so far had a small banana and a mini-flapjack and topped this off with a small hot chocolate and a raspberry and white chocolate muffin from Costa coffee. Not the greatest of breakfasts but I didn’t really fancy a bowl of porage at home before I set off at 4am! I’m going to mention more about my food/fuel for the day as this is something I’m trying to work on - to establish what I need to keep me going in these events.
Food for Friday night/Saturday morning…
- Friday night was a large bowl of macaroni and chicken in a bit of a home made sauce.
- 1 small banana - 100 cals, 25g carbohydrates
- 1 flapjack - 130 cals, 16.5g carbohydrates (of which 8.4g sugars)
- 1 hot chocolate - around 450 calories I guess
- 1 raspberry/white chocolate muffin - 511 cals, 63.1g carbohydrates (of which 37.9g sugars)
I have no idea what shoes I’m wearing here - they look like smart work ones!
I arrived at the Bosworth Water Trust site at around 6:30am and parked alongside a handful of other triathletes who were also taking part. A few introductions were made (of which I forget everyones names, although I kind of know Jon, as I’ve seen him a couple of times on Saturday morning open water swim sessions).
I got the bike ready, filled up a water bottle with Lucozade sport drink, put some flapjacks and energy gels into my bike bag and then got changed into my tri-suit and wetsuit.
I have to say that I was really impressed with the venue - it was only three pounds to park for the day, and the lake looked great for swimming (well, it wasn’t heated though!). There were two islands in the middle of the lake. People doing the 70.3 (half Ironman) were to swim two full laps (round the far island) and then one small lap (round the near island) and then return to shore for the swim-bike transition. Full Ironman distance people were to swim five full laps.
In addition to sipping water during the drive up, I drank three quarters of a Lucozade sports drink before the swim (that’s about 75 calories and 18g carbohydrates).
Shortly before 7am Stuart and Nicola, who were staying nearby on Friday night, managed to arrive just in time and they hurriedly got their wetsuits on and over to the water. After signing in (the swim was arranged through 1485 Tri Club) and getting a team photo taken (there were about 15 or 16 of us in total, although not everyone made it in the photo), we all headed into the water.
The past two weekends I’ve done some open water (lake) swimming practice so was ready for the cold - and to be honest I didn’t think it was as cold as it had been the past two weeks. I was wearing two swim caps today so maybe that helped. Some people had a lot more trouble with the water temperature but after a few practice strokes I was ready.
Steve from 1845 Tri Club started us off with a whistle and that was it. I settled into a comfortable pace really quickly and just swam. There was a couple of small moments of contact between myself and another person but with such murky water and my (not great yet) open water sighting technique it was to be expected.
The swim field seemed to spread out quite comfortably and I just got on with it. There was a little discussion before the start as to whether we should go round a large buoy anchored near the start on each lap but the two guys in front of me who I followed didn’t go round it until the end of the small lap as we returned to shore. I just followed them!
Here is a map of the swim course - which is probably fairly accurate. Let’s say it was about a mile.
As I got out of the water I stopped my watch, which said 29 minutes 59 seconds. There were quite a few supporters on dry land and as I got out of the water I gave my name to one of them who was able to tick me off of the “he’s not drowned” list that the open water swim people have!
I then jogged over to the transition area (er, car) where it was time to get out of the wetsuit, get the bike shoes and a lightweight jacket on (it was pretty nippy) get the bike unlocked from the roof rack (two locks were securing it) and then onto the road. My transition was slow (I wasn’t racing it, just going comfortably) and I calculated T1 (transition 1) to have taken 6 minutes 45 seconds!
I started the bike leg at about 7:49am, and there were a couple of other bikers ahead of me, and some others behind. The course was fairly straight-forward (apparently) and although I had a copy of the map and some general idea of what it did, I hadn’t studied it enough to know when to expect some of the turns. As I settled into the bike route I found myself following a lady who was about 100 metres or so in front of me. From chatting before the start she certainly knew more about the route than me (I’d forgotten that you turn left out of the car park - FFS!). Anyway, shortly after 21 minutes into the ride I saw her pull over to the side of the road and I stopped beside her. We discussed directions (all I had to offer was a printout of the map) and then realised that we should have turned off earlier.
We should have turned off at 18 minutes, and instead found ourselves back where we should have turned at 24:30, so that’s 6:30 (and 1.85 miles) ‘lost’ on the bike. Ah, never mind.
For the rest of the first lap (it was a three lap course of around 18 miles each lap) I cycled alongside or close to the lady (I’ve no idea what her name was - I’m not very good with names you know!) but found that she’s an ex-ultra runner who’s now doing triathlon/Ironman distance events. For the remainder of the first lap and the first few miles of the second lap we stayed close together until I had to pull over at 25.5 miles for a wee. Unlike my normal swimming exploits I don’t believe I drunk half of the lake this morning so I must have hydrated myself well, very well! After a good minute or so off the bike I hopped back on feeling much better (and no doubt lighter) and continued. I know a true Ironman doesn’t stop for toilet breaks but I’m not quite in that league (yet).
The bike went on…and on… - I thought it was a really good route (and being cheered on by someone as I started the third lap was lovely), and my three laps (including missing the turning) got me to the second transition (bike to run) after approx 3 hours 22 minutes - that was for 55.42 miles and includes over three minutes for the map check and toilet break. My average heart rate on the bike was 135bpm. According to my GPS software on my computer I’d burnt just over 2,500 calories.
So, what fuel did I have on the bike…
- 1 litre of Lucozade sport - 185 calories, 42.2 carbs (of which 22.4 sugars)
- A little less than half a litre of water (I should have had more, as I had it sat there on the bike)
- 3 flapjacks - 390 cals, 49.5g carbohydrates (of which 25.2g sugars)
- 2 PowerBar ‘gels’ - 220 calories, 54g carbs (of which 20.3g sugars)
As I returned from the bike, there were a few other people coming in and out of transition and it was a very casual affair - we were happy to chat (albeit briefly), and I had to get the car unlocked, out of my bike shoes, into my running shoes, have some water, get the bike up onto the roof rack and locked, and then get running. Naturally, after locking the bike to the roof rack I realised that my GPS was still up there attached to the handlebars, so I had to unlock it all, bring the bike down, etc. etc. Once the car was locked and the key tucked into my ‘shoe wallet’ I headed out of the car park. Transition 2 (bike to run) took 5 minutes 44 seconds.
I then set off onto the run, where I took a final PowerBar gel and a drink of Lucozade. That was the remainder of my fuel for the event (I almost wrote race then, but it was purely a training event).
As I headed onto the towpath, Jon, was just ahead of me and we commented that we should have worn trail shoes, and not the lovely clean running shoes that we were wearing. Although the run is almost entirely on the Ashby Canal towpath, after a great deal of rain during the previous few days, some parts of the path were extremely muddy and slippery. It wasn’t a great surface to run on, but made a pleasant change to be running alongside a canal with canal boats drifting up and down and a few people out walking on the towpath.
I was feeling pretty good heading into the run and tried to run slower than I have done in previous bike-run training sessions from home, where I seem to start off full of energy and then fall apart after a couple of miles. Unfortunately today was again going to be one of those days and I started to slow down shortly after 3 miles.
Just before 4 miles, at the village of Shackerstone we had to cross the canal at a bridge to then run along the other side - I arrived at the bridge along with another runner who I’d caught up with and when we had no idea where we were going some people on the bridge shouted to us “you need to cross over here.” We crossed the bridge then headed back onto the towpath.
Between here and the turnaround point at about 6.5 miles I ran past one or two other runners, with one of them complaining about a muscle pain in his leg. There were also a few runners heading back towards me who shouted words of encouragement as we crossed each other.
As I got to the turnaround point (in 50 minutes 10 seconds) I was really feeling it, and having trouble trying to keep to a good pace. I was pushing hard but just couldn’t run faster. At the start of the run I was going at around 7 minute 30 mile pace, but by 6 miles this had dropped to 8 minute 30 pace. Things didn’t get much better!
As I said previously this was a self-supported event so there were no real rules, no water stations and very few supporters so I needed to take everything I needed with me for the run, and after taking the gel at the start of the run, I hung onto and sipped the Lucozade sports drink until about mile ten. I would have been better off with two drinks and probably another gel as well, but the idea of today was to gain experience and hopefully learn from it (in preparation for Bala in a few weeks time), and this I certainly did.
At this point I was heading back to the car, a (For Goodness Shakes) milkshake, some water, food, and the thought of a ‘dip’ in the freezing cold lake to cool my legs down was all I could think of - oh, and the fact that I will have completed my first half Ironman!
The run back to the finish didn’t get any easier but I had enough energy to smile at passing canal boats and to thank people for making room for me to run past on the narrow towpath. A few miles before the finish I saw Nicola running towards me - she’d done a much longer swim, had a long swim-bike transition (something about putting together her bike as it was in pieces in the boot of the car!) and it was good to offer her encouragement and to receive some as well from a friendly face.
It was a relief to get off of the towpath and onto the road to the finish, where a fellow triathlete cheered me on. I ran into the car park, saw my car (this was going to be my finish line for the day!) and ran straight to it with a big fat grin on my face. I wasn’t going to stop right there so after unlocking the car I grabbed a bottle of water and walked around for a few minutes - just to try and cool down smoothly.
My run time was 1:48:32 for 12.88 miles. This would equate to just over 1 hour 50 for a half marathon (13.1 miles). My half marathon best time is currently 1:27:42 on much better conditions underfoot and seeing as though I fell apart pace-wise during the run I’m actually pretty pleased with the outcome. My average pace was 8:25 miling. My average heart rate was 167bpm - for the first few miles it was around 170/171 but then dropped down in the final miles.
I mentioned earlier that I had a gel and a sports drink on the run, so fuel wise that adds up to a total of 203 calories (48.1g carbohydrates -of which 21.4g sugars) for the run - certainly not enough - especially after a bike ride of just under 3 and a half hours!
After a few minutes of walking around I grabbed my milkshake and then headed straight for the lake where there were a few others taking ‘advantage’ of the cold water in order to aid a speedy recovery of their muscles.
I then headed off for an absolutely lovely shower - I was in there for a good 10-15 minutes, and then returned back to the car area to chat to some of the others. After waiting for Nicola to finish I then made my way to the cafe to reward myself with a well deserved Magnum ice cream and a can of coke. I said my farewells (after seeing Stuart return from the bike ride - he did 112 miles as opposed to my half Ironman 56) and jumped in the car for the 2 and a half hour drive home.
All in all I had a fantastic day and am so pleased to have completed my first half Ironman distance event. Learning from this I seriously need to 1) have a better breakfast, although I knew this at the time, and 2) eat a lot more on the bike! This is my downfall. I can keep cycling happily when running low on fuel but when I start the run, it really shows. This is something I have to fix in a few weeks time.
Now, was it tough? Yes it bloody well was - I wasn’t racing it but I really had to dig incredibly deep - during the run especially - and that’s my favourite discipline.
I have to say thanks to everyone who helped organise the event, made me feel welcome and cheered me on as the day progressed. It was a great experience and one I look forward to doing again.
So, final summary and stats…
- Swim time - 29:59
- T1 (swim-bike transition) - 6:45
- Bike time - 3:22:27 (55.42 miles)
- T2 (bike-run transition) - 5:44
- Run time - 1:48:32 (12.88 miles)
- Final time - 5:53:27
So, comfortably within 6 hours, and especially so with the cycling stop made to work out where we were going!). The idea of this event was for me to get some practice in for the Bala triathlon next month and it has certainly been invaluable. Here’s hoping that the lessons I’ve learnt can be applied in a few weeks time. Stay tuned.