After supporting friends at this race in 2010 in the back of my mind I thought it could be a good event to enter and after it was decided upon as the main ‘Pirate’ race of 2012 then it was an easy decision. This was to be my first UK Ironman distance race - 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run! I’ve normally opted for warmer climates but couldn’t miss this pirate outing!
If you’re new to this blog then the ‘Pirates’ are the unofficial triathlon club from the Runners World/Triathletes World forum. I’ve been wearing the, er, distinctive yellow and black colours for a few years now and the support (and occasional strange looks) you get racing in the kit is amazing. I love that it doesn’t have a club name or any writing on the kit, so people don’t really know who you are or where you’re from. This weekend there were a lot of pirates out there - I counted over 80 entrants registered for the race on the entry list!
Sharon and I drove up to Nottingham on Friday morning and had decided to take our tent and camp at the National Water Sports Centre campsite which is only a couple of minutes walk from the race site. A perfect location and a great campsite. We got ourselves set up and then registered for the race. ‘We’ had the largest number of entrants of all and were given a special custom pirate ‘buff’ at registration. Very smart. The race site was fairly quiet on Friday. That evening we had dinner then walked to the bar at the race site for a quiet beer. I say quiet as there were only three other people in the place and one of them was serving behind the bar!
Saturday morning I finished getting my bike ready and rode a quick loop of the lake (the bike leg starts with a lap of the huge rowing lake) to get a feel for what the course is like straight out of transition. I followed this up with a 10 minute easy run just to remind myself what I needed to do on Sunday. Saturday afternoon I took my bike to the transition area to get it racked for the night and also handed in my transition bags (one with cycling kit, one with running kit). I also ate a ton of food during the day to get my energy stores nice and full in preparation for the day ahead.
Sunday was a 3:20am alarm call and then straight into coffee and a huge bowl of porridge. That’s my usual tried and tested pre-race routine. A couple of toilet stops and it was ready to head to the race site to check the bike and bags. I have to say that the toilet stops could have been more successful! I think I’d eaten too much on Saturday and didn’t feel like I’d got nearly enough of it through the system. Sorry for the nature of this but this blog is for me to remember in future how things went and how I can use this to learn from. This isn’t ideal as I normally take a couple of Immodium tablets to keep the demons at bay before the start and they’d only work for so long (and I don’t normally ‘top up’ during a race). Anyway, moving on (for now at least!)…
Sunrise over transition, Holme Pierrepont
The weather was absolutely beautiful at 5am. The sun was rising above the far end of the lake and it was a clear blue sky. The only problem was the increasing wind. It was set to be a windy day just like the previous days had been. Race morning is always strange. It’s often quiet. Competitors just moving around doing what they need to do, whether it’s checking their bikes and filling up drinks bottles, checking transition bags or queuing for the toilets. It’s a nervous time (although once again I was feeling pretty relaxed).
Ready to Rock and Roll!
At about a quarter to six (the race starts at 6am) the wetsuit was zipped up and a quick energy gel to remind me of what I was going to be ‘eating’ all day! I headed to the lake to get accustomed to the water temperature and psych myself up for the swim. The last time I swam 3.8k was at Challenge Wanaka in January. As I got myself warmed up and ready in the water I had a bit of a nightmare with my goggles. The right eyepiece was letting in water. I made a load of adjustments but it just wasn’t behaving. These were new goggles (which I’d worn once earlier in the week and was happy with) but today they were not playing ball. I moved to shallow water, took off my swim cap, adjusted the straps some more and then they seemed to work and have a proper seal at last. Phew.
I positioned myself about five rows back at the fast end of the field with the intention of swimming hard for the first 50m or so and then getting clear water close to the left side of the lake. I had no intention whatsoever of getting myself stuck in the middle of the lake. If I kept to the side then I could pick and choose how busy I wanted the swim to be based on how far ‘in’ I swam.
The final couple of minutes before the start was amazing. People everywhere (both in and out of the water), TV cameras filming the action (the race will be on Channel 4 in the UK soon) and then a round of applause that everyone in and around the lake took part in. It’s amazing to watch the start of an Ironman race. It’s even more amazing being part of it.
5-4-3-2-1. Go! Pretty much on the chime of 6am 836 starters (including relay team competitors) started swimming down the lake in the direction of a large orange buoy about 1.2 miles away!
And they’re off!
My Wanaka swim time was 72 minutes (in slightly choppy water). As I’d swum even less the past few months I was expecting to have a similar time as in Wanaka as the water was much calmer. After settling into a rhythm I got myself into a position swimming right behind someone, keeping an eye on the bubbles from their feet in the water and sticking as close as I could. I pretty much stuck on the feet of this one person for the whole swim. On a couple of occasions I pulled up beside him to try and move forward through the pack but I couldn’t easily get past and it was much easier for me to sit on his feet than swim beside him. The swim is about 1850m along the lake, then you turn at a buoy, swim across the lake and then 1850m back to the finish. I got to the first turn marker is a little under 31 minutes. Nice.
Swimming was easy as you didn’t need to worry too much about where you were going. I was able to just breath to my left and sight against the edge of the lake. I’d see people walking alongside cheering us all on.
The return journey was a little slower as I was no doubt tiring (having not swum more than 3k in a single go since January) and having to swim directly into the wind and chop. My swim was very uneventful (which is how I like it) and as I came out of the lake my watch said 64:56. Wow. I really wasn’t expecting that. This got me off to a great start. On the way to transition 1 I got my wetsuit down to my waist (which reveals the pirate skull and crossbones) and got some great cheers - which I was only happy to ‘aaarrrrggghhhhhhh’ back to them.
Swim time: 1 hour 4 minutes 56 seconds Swim rank: 75th Overall position (at this point): 75th
Note that all positions are based off the provisional results that were posted online shortly after the race. There were a few competitors disqualified for a range of offences and some appeals and also corrections to the results may result in the results being updated over time.
Transition one was straightforward. Wetsuit off, bike helmet, shoes and socks on. I also decided to wear a zip-up gillet top as it wasn’t very warm out and there was a forecast for rain at some point. This and my cheapo armwarmers (that don’t quite fit but worked fine in Wanaka) went on and it was off to collect my bike. As I was getting ready in the transition tent I saw another pirate come through. A few words of encouragement between us and then I was on my way.
Transition 1 time: 3 minutes 30 seconds Transition 1 rank: 31st Overall position (at this point): 51st (24 places gained in transition 1)
As you can see I gained a large number of places in transition. I’ve no idea what some people are doing in T1 but I would have been much quicker if I hadn’t chosen to wear an extra top or put armwarmers on. I would have been quicker still if my bike shoes were on my bike (and I didn’t put socks on) and ran barefoot to the bike. Transitions can be just as important as the swim/bike/run if you’re chasing a good time, so don’t waste time when you don’t need to.
Photo: Paul Moore
Heading out onto the bike you do a single lap of the rowing/swim lake. I got some great support at the start of the bike including Sharon who was there looking stunned (and excited!) at how I managed to put in such a good swim time, especially when I said I planned to have a steady swim and not push myself too much - which I believe I did.
The lap of the lake gave me time to have a gel (that’s two so far) and get myself setup for the rest of the 112 mile (oh, doesn’t that sound lovely! not!) ride. I could see a number of people still in the lake just having rounded the far markers and I was happy at this point to not be one of them still in the water. They had a long long swim ahead of them directly into a headwind.
Leaving the lake and onto the open roads. I then settled into my planned nutrition which was to take a gel every 20 minutes. This I did for the next five hours and 20 minutes (meaning 16 gels, plus the one I had at the very start of the bike leg making it a total of 17 on the bike). Yummy! This was washed down with High-5 drink and some water later on in the ride. Although I’ve used the same strategy in my last few races my stomach wasn’t overly happy after about three and a half hours. It may have been because of the generally flat course that I was spending much more time than usual bent forwards in a more aerodynamic position. Things did settle down a bit eventually but I didn’t feel 100 percent.
The bike course was lovely although pretty windy in places. Lots of headwinds and exposed roads throughout the course. The pockets of support were great and it was good to see some of the locals standing at the end of their gardens cheering us on. I always made an effort to smile and/or say thanks to them.
Most of the road junctions had traffic management on them (men/women holding stop/go signs) to give the riders a clear and fast route. There were a few places where there were left turns and no stop/go signs and it was amazing to see quite a few other riders just race round these corners without even looking to their right to see if the road was clear. I would always look and only go if I felt it was safe to do so. It is the riders responsibility. These riders didn’t seem to care less if there was a car coming. Unbelievable. Post race I saw that two riders were disqualified for dangerous cycling. Maybe that’s that kind of behaviour that got them in trouble. If so then it serves them right. It was made clear at the race briefing that were were riding on open roads so had to observe the rules of the road.
About a third of the way into the course I was overtaken by a fellow pirate. Unfortunately a few miles later I passed him as he was at the side of the road fixing a puncture.
One of the aid stations on the bike course was organised by the pirates and I got some massive cheers as I came through (as I was the first pirate at this point). I loved the support. Thanks everyone.
I overtook a fair few riders on the bike and quite a few overtook me - mostly people on expensive looking time trial bikes with disc wheels and riders wearing pointy helmets.
One day I’m going to turn up to a race with a decent bike and an aerodynamic helmet and show ‘em who’s boss, but right now I’m content riding my 2008 issue road bike with clip on tri-bars that cost £1150 (although I do have some lovely new wheels on it now for racing).
At one point I came across three men on road bikes on a Sunday ride. As I pulled up beside them (they were very courteous to competitors) I asked if either of them fancied running a marathon in a couple of hours time. They weren’t up for it so it looked like I’d have to do it instead!
Power wise I mainly stuck to my target. I didn’t go off too hard in the early miles (like I had done a little over optimistically at Wanaka in January) but in the second half of the ride I was conscious to keep my effort under control and not slacken off or push too hard. I’ve got more data and thoughts about all this which I may post on the blog at a later date but I won’t bore you with the details now.
It certainly didn’t feel like an easy ride, thats for sure. I pushed fairly hard (or at least felt I was pushing fairly hard) throughout the entire ride. My heart rate over the 112 miles averaged 140bpm.
Bike time: 5 hours 34 minutes 11 seconds Bike rank: 57th Overall position (at this point): 42nd (9 places gained during the bike)
Transition 2 was another speedy affair. I see no reason to hang around in transition if you want a fast race. Bike shoes off (which I could have done at the end of the bike to save a few extra seconds I guess), running shoes on, bike helmet off, visor on, gillet off and then onto the run. When I start the run I have a couple of gels with me and a small amount of vaseline to put where my tri-top sometimes rubs.
Transition 2 time: 2 minutes 25 seconds Transition 2 rank: 31st Overall position (at this point): 42nd (no change)
As I started the first lap of the lake I got some superb pirate support as I was the first one (pirate that is) out onto the run. Within a few minutes I was caught up and overtaken by Shaun although his race didn’t quite go to plan - he eventually withdrew and spent a few hours in the medical tent.
Early on during the run… clearly!
With the wind really blowing and much of the run course being exposed, especially around the lake - part of the course had a lovely tailwind, but then there was a horrific headwind to contend with heading back to the main supporting ‘stand’ and finish area. This part wasn’t pleasant at all and there was probably close to five miles of this lakeside ‘direct into a headwind running’ throughout the marathon. This was not at all pleasant but everyone had the same to contend with.
Within about 20 minutes of the run starting a pretty heavy rain shower came over. Although I’d rather it not pour with rain I was glad to be running and not cycling at this point. The sun then came out, then it rained a bit more, and got cloudy…. and this continued…
The first few miles I settled into a steady pace and tried to keep close to 8 minute miling - that was my aim. The only thing that slowed me down in the first few miles was the timing chip that rubbed on my left ankle. In the past I’ve had timing chips on a neoprene/velcro strap but this time it was a paper-type strap (the non-tear waterproof kind that race numbers are often made of). This started to rub and I had to stop twice to make adjustments - with the final adjustment being to jam my sock underneath part of the strap. This seemed to do the trick.
Passing yet another ‘pocket’ of pirate support!
I literally flew past the ladies leader in the first 30 minutes of the run. I was actually really surprised that she was leading as she really wasn’t running well. She eventually clocked a 4 hour 46 marathon. And didn’t win.
Eight minute miling would give me a 3 hour 30 marathon split which was what I was aiming for. This was unfortunately not going to happen. Over the first few miles I was having a few, er, wind issues and was glad that the run course was fairly quiet with not many of us out there else it could have been quite embarrassing! After around eight miles I decided enough was enough and headed to one of the portaloos. This was rather reminiscent of a similar loo visit during the later miles of Ironman Switzerland in 2009.
It might be worth skipping the next paragraph. I really do think so!
I did feel a lot better afterwards but a few miles later the same problem came back to haunt me. Another couple of miles of farting like a, well, I’m really not sure, and worrying that at some point it will be one too many and I’ll be crawling around in the bushes! I then decided enough was enough and it was time for my second portaloo visit (at about 17.5 miles). The first one I came across was busy, then the second but thankfully the third was available. In I darted, did what needed to be done (well, to be honest I think it was more like a emptying a tub of chocolate ice cream that had been out in the sun all day!). Back out into the fresh air I was overtaking people I’d just run past a few minutes ago. A couple of pirates said “hey, didn’t you just ran past me five minutes ago?” or similar.
Anyway, I was feeling a bit better at this point and was heading back towards starting my last ‘lap’ of the run course - about six miles from the finish. I loved the pirate support all over the course and did my best to smile, cheer and thank people who were cheering me on.
Walking an aid station with a cup of water
Aid stations on the course were everywhere. You were never far from one which was great. I treated myself to gels, water, energy drink and a little drink of coke. I didn’t go for the orange segments, crisps or jaffa cakes although I gather that plenty of people did. After about 18 or 19 miles I started to walk the aid stations rather than run through. I wasn’t hunting a particular time. I wanted to get through the run without destroying myself so having a quick ‘break’ (i.e., walking briskly through the aid station whilst taking on gel/water) was I believe a sensible decision for me.
I will say here that the run course is pretty good. You run past the finishing funnel/area three times during the run and there’s a great atmosphere and support. You then get a ton of cheering and support on the opposite side of the lake as you turn to run away from the lake and towards Nottingham and along the riverside. Then, just past the Nottingham Forest football ground there was a Dragon Boat racing event taking place with really loud music and some lovely supporting going on. It was a really uplifting part of the course and part of an out and back section where you could cheer on other runners.
This is where I got my glances of fellow pirate Dave F. He’s a slower swimmer, similar biker but much better runner than me. I knew that I was a hunted man as I started the run course and after my stomach/toilet troubles it was just a matter of time before he caught up with me. This weekend it was about 22 miles into the run, just after the turnaround. He was absolutely flying (compared to me that is) when he ran past me. Mutual words of support were given and I watched him head off into the distance. Post race when checking my GPS and how long I spent in the portaloos had I not had these stops we both could have been set for a cracking final mile neck-and-neck to the finish. Another day…
Shortly after seeing Dave come past I saw another pirate coming the other way. This time it was Emma. Her training puts many people (especially me) to shame and she was having a superb day. I’d seen her earlier on the run looking great but this time it was in the final few miles - she looked great - but this time had someone on a bike cycling just in front of her with a sign that said ‘leading female.’ Yup, our Emma was leading! After starting the run in fourth place overall she slowly but surely went past all the other women to take the lead. She eventually didn’t just win - she smashed it with nearly 10 minutes between her and second place. Awesome work. When she saw me (probably a few seconds after Dave came past) she said “race strong David.” I was doing my best.
As I headed towards the final lake circuit with around 3.5 miles left to run I decided to do a few calculations. The upshot of this was that I had a chance of getting a time just under 10 hours 30 minutes if I really pushed on for the last few miles. I’d have to give it my best shot. I pushed on as hard as my legs could, my heart rate rose, my legs ached like hell but I was getting closer to a time that I’d be very happy with today. My speed didn’t increase much (that pesky headwind in the final mile played a huge part in that) but I know I gave it everything I could at the time. The best feeling of the day was as I filtered into the finishing funnel, took the support from the crowd, gave plenty back and crossed the line.
Run time: 3 hours 43 minutes 54 seconds Run rank: 50th Overall (and final) position: 34th (8 places gained during the run)
My overall time was 10 hours 28 minutes and 59 seconds so nicely inside of 10:30. This is second fastest result over the distance with my best performance being at Roth, Germany in 2010. It’s really difficult to compare times across races as the course difficulty and weather play huge parts in it so it’s better to look at how you did compared to everyone else. Well, in this case looking at the non-relay athletes I finished 34th out of 780 finishers. This is in the top 5 percent of all finishers so that’s not bad at all in my eyes.
I was expecting this race to be fast and comfortable (if that’s a word that you can use to describe an Ironman distance race). The wind made conditions tough, my stomach gave me all kinds of grief during the run (which I think was partly caused by eating too much the day before). My relaxed attitude going into the race probably didn’t help as I’d put in a rather long training session the previous Sunday, having run just under 22 miles and cycling over 35 as part of “The Longest parkrun” event. Perhaps a slightly longer taper would help…
All in all the last few months have been busy when it comes to training and racing. Since around October 2011 I stepped up my training to prepare for the Ironman distance race that was in January. Straight off of the back of that I dedicated my time to running and getting a good time at the London Marathon in late April and then May and June were spent quickly stepping up the bike training and swimming to get me fit for The Outlaw.
So what’s next…. I’m going to do a tough duathlon (run, bike, run) later in the year and then hopefully build on the training to get me fit for another tough first half of 2013 where I’ll be running the London Marathon and then doing yet another Ironman. I’ve also got this strange thought going through my head of actually training harder than before. Maybe I will…
Right now however I’ve got my feet up, watching the Tour de France and really looking forward to watching and supporting London 2012.