This took place on September 16th 2018 in the quaint village of Ellesmere in Shropshire. It consisted of a 1.2 mile swim in the lake, a 50 mile bike ride taking in parts of Wales as well as England and a 13.1 mile run based around the lake itself. When I booked onto it originally I misread it and thought it was actually an Ironman 70.3 which is what I had set my sights on at the beginning of the year. It was pretty close though, I was only 7 miles short on the bike ride.
The weekend had got off to a bad start in the middle of the previous week when my son had been put off by the potential early start (05.30) on race day. That caused a few logistical problems getting him back to his mums on the Saturday evening as he was going to come with my partner and I to watch the event but decided not to. That resulted in an hour being put on the travel time to get to the hotel and raised my stress levels quite considerably. Saturday had already been quite stressful trying to sort my kit and nutritional requirements out and make sure that my bike was mechanically sound, it’s over 30 years old and is starting to feel the work that it’s had over the summer. I kept getting interrupted whilst I was getting organised and that means that I can be very good at forgetting stuff when that happens, which when you’re 100+ miles from home is not good. Eventually all the kit was sorted and packed ready for race day, by heck there’s so much of it……
The journey to the overnight hotel passed without any problems. We’d had a nice meal at home to complete the carb loading process and I was ready to go. I was nervous though and a bit snappy with both my partner and the hotel receptionist who asked us if we would like breakfast the following morning. This for me was a massive challenge and I was rightly a little afraid of what might happen. Uncharted territory in terms of the race distances themselves, even though they had been done in training, and the area where it was happening all meant that I was scared witless. As a good friend of mine who runs ultra marathons said to me that I needed to channel the energy towards something good and not waste it getting all jumpy. So, I had my power porridge and settled down to get some sleep.
I slept reasonably well but not for long enough. I awoke at 04.15 and could not get back to sleep. The nerves must have really kicked in. Still I’d had a good 6 hours which isn’t bad at all really so I just lay there and thought about what was in front of me. That was a bad move, it set the demons off saying that I couldn’t do it and would fail. I knew otherwise though and tried to put them to one side without much success. 05.15 and the alarm goes off, time to move. Up I get, kettle on to make some turbo tea and get some power shake down my neck (F1 sport, rebuild strength and peanut butter, proper race fuel) before getting dressed, sorting my race fuel out and ready to move. My partner stirred at the same time and I sorted her out as well with breakfast. We packed our gear and headed off. My start time was 07.45 and I wanted to be at the venue for 06.30 to give me plenty of time to get organised in transition and sort my kit out as well as be down at the lake in time for my briefing.
When we arrived in Ellesmere we found some parking with no problem, ideal spot relatively close to the lake and free to park as well (bonus prize), and headed off to register. It was still dark and the registration tent had little or no light in it , just a bit from 2 of the LED torches which weren’t ideal for throwing light out into the tent. I had left my glasses in the car and couldn’t read my name on the board so the girl had to find me on her sheet as I’d got my race number wrong, talk about looking for a needle in a haystack, and then kitted me out with my race pack. The nerves had really kicked in by now as I sorted out my race pack and I was all fingers and thumbs. I managed to get the race number onto my belt then tried and failed miserably to get my number tattoos onto my leg and arm. I really must start shaving my legs, those things hurt when they don’t stick properly……
All stickered up I headed off into transition to sort out all my kit. I could choose where I wanted to go, unusual really as it’s normally done by start number, so I picked somewhere easy to find on the back row near the toilets (I can get lost in transition very easily) and I thought back to the Leeds event in June where the area had been massive and I went completely down the wrong row….. Bike racked and I got talking to a couple of guys doing the same race as me, there were all sorts of races going on that day as well as mine, and they were saying how they’d done very little training so were only doing this instead of an Ironman 140.6. At that point I thought that I was well and truly out of my league as we chatted and swapped tips for the race itself. There were a lot of expensive looking bikes in transition and some very fit looking competitors. Once they had headed off I had a few minutes “quiet time” as I sorted myself out and it was at that point that my mindset shifted. The reason why I was doing this event was not only to put myself through it but to raise money for MIND, the mental health charity. The reasons behind that are worthy of a post in itself so I won’t go into them now. Today wasn’t about killing myself to get round so fast that I couldn’t move for days afterwards, it was about getting round. It was about the support I’d had from the online donations and from my colleagues at work who had seen my training progress through the summer and their donations to get me motivated. My target time was sub 7 hours, ideally sub 6.30. Quite realistic given my times in training so it was a matter of seeing what I could do and doing the best I could. So…. Head sort of cleared but not fully I pulled on my wetsuit, checked all the gear for one last time and headed off to the swim start for the race briefing. This is an essential part of what we do as it sorts out any safety issues before we start and we all know what we are to do etc.
I stood on the shore of the lake and looked out across it. There were four buoys in a line and I had to swim to the furthest one before I could turn back and then go right at the next buoy and do the full circuit not once but twice. The nerves kicked in again then and I remembered my friends words and decided to channel the energy elsewhere and save it for the race. The swim is my weakest discipline so I’m glad it’s the first bit, it’s out of the way then and is psychologically a big step in the race. The temperature was quite warm (15 degrees) and the water temperature was good too (14.5 degrees) but there was the forecast of heavy rain showers and the wind was blustery to say the least….
Race briefing done and we all headed off into the water. My partner wished me luck and gave a small kiss on the cheek. I was in my own little zone by then, just wanting to get the race under way. I knew once I got out of the water I would be fine. Not fast at that point, just fine. As I waded out I noticed that water felt great, it wasn’t even cold inside the wetsuit and that lifted my spirits. We didn’t have long to wait. The klaxon sounded and we were off. I had managed to find a clear spot before the start and that got rid of the “swimming in a washing machine” bit which is a nightmare with some races. The faster swimmers were off as I plodded along towards the far buoy. The beauty of open water swimming is that once you get into a decent stroke rhythm you maintain it as you’re not continually turning so even though 1.2 miles is a long way it is relatively easy to maintain a good stroke rate once you get there. The lake was clean and little or no weed, tangles the legs and arms and stops you working properly, unlike Castle Howard in July and before I knew it I was at the far side of the lake and turning round the buoy for the first time. My stroke rate picked up as I had passed a major psychological point for me and I thought “I can do this. Get on with it!!!”. So I did!! First lap done and as I headed out to the far buoy again I realised that the faster swimmers were almost at the end of their second lap. Normally that would have phased me but not this time. I remembered why I was there and what it was all about. Head down, get on with it…. When I rounded the last buoy and started to head for the swim exit I heard the klaxon go to start the Olympic distance race and knew that I had been in for an hour, not bad really and a respectable time for me. I also looked behind me and saw that I wasn’t last. This kicked me on a bit and I headed for the shore trying to spot the exit point with little success. Coming out of the water after you’ve been in for a long time can be a bit disorientating as you suddenly want your legs to work vertically and not horizontally and they don’t want to do it. No end of training can prepare you for the moment when that happens and you just have to get on with it. I struggled to see the exit point as I swam in, brown hessian on soil is not easy to spot. It was also starting to rain and I felt the raindrops on my swim hat. Eventually I found it and crawled out before getting to my feet very unsteadily. The mud on the shore didn’t help but I managed it. I was out….. Swim done!! Now for the bike. As I headed into transition I saw my partner with a big smile on her face shouting encouragement as I passed her.
I wasn’t my usual rushing self in transition this time, after all this wasn’t about speed it was about getting round, and whilst I moved quickly I still found time to chat to other competitors getting ready for their races. With longer distances involved fuelling had become more critical. I had planned this quite well and as I started to get changed I ate a banana and half a piece of my home made flapjack with fruit and seeds in. A mixture of complex and simple carbs to help me on my way. I also had a large bottle of Prolong from the Herbalife 24 range on the bike as well as water. Prolong does what it says on the tin. It is a balance of carbs and protein to give you all you need for long distance and endurance events. It stops the burn from lactic acid build up and I also find it eases the aches at the bottom of my quads after a long time on the bike. I start to use it before I need it that way I don’t need it, if you get what I’m trying to say. I followed my usual transition procedure, top down getting undressed then bottom up getting dressed again. This means that the last thing I do is put on my helmet before I unrack my bike so I don’t fall foul of the rules. By now it was raining steadily as well as there being a strong gusty wind and I knew the bike section would be “interesting”. I headed off, passed the mount point, mounted up and I was off.
The bike section went well. The course was relatively flat with only a few gentle rises and dips as far as the elevation plan in the race pack showed. It wasn’t far wrong and it wasn’t long before I was using my rest bars as I cruised along on the flat stretches and on the gentle downhills. My nerves had melted away now, I was in my most comfortable spot in the saddle and moving nicely. My cadence was good and my speed was too, despite the wind. Even though I was on untested roads I felt good and relaxed. I could see a few cyclists in the distance and gave chase as best I could. About half way round the first lap it stopped raining and I began to dry out. There is nothing worse than wet cycling in just a tri suit as you get cold quickly and no matter how much talc you put in your shoes it won’t dry up heavy rain. As I made the turn towards Ellesmere with about 6 miles to go the wind hit me. The force was not something I had reckoned on even though it had been in my face for some of the way round so I dug in and pushed to get into Ellesmere. That 6 miles seemed to take forever and when I looked at the Strava tracking afterwards I could see that it was relatively slow compared to the rest of the lap. Back into Ellesmere and I passed where I had started the lap as a bit of a blur. I briefly saw my partner trying to take a photo and cheer me on but I was gone. I smiled to myself and headed past the feed station without stopping.
The second lap went well too until I made the final turn for home. At that point it started to rain again and I began to feel the pain of the wind and rain in my face. I wear glasses for cycling as a matter of course, it sorts a multitude of problems before they become problems… In addition my bike was starting to make a clunking sound from the bottom bracket on every downward stroke on my right hand side. I thought “Oh no, not now. Just get me back to Ellesmere, you can have a rest then”. I kept moving. My pace was still good despite the wind and rain and I was willing the bike to get back in one piece. In this event, failure was NOT an option. I had been well sponsored by people and didn’t want to let them down. For the majority of the second lap I was on my own and it was almost like a training ride, quite relaxing really.
I clunked my way back to Ellesmere and into transition for the second time, almost missing the dismount line on the way. I breathed a huge mental sigh of relief as I racked my bike and took my helmet off. A quick change of trainers ensued as well as a banana and half a piece of flapjack. The change of motion from riding to running didn’t phase me this time, it usually does, which showed that all the brick sessions had paid off. The rest of the flapjack went in one of my pockets, along with a protein bar, and I grabbed a small bottle of prolong before I headed out on the run.
The run was based round the mere and consisted of 4 laps of just over 3 miles each to make up the 13.1 mile total. At the briefing we had been told to go up and up and up and up the road till we reached the turning point. It seemed never ending…. My watch told me that I had done nearly a mile and a half before I got to the turn. I was glad to see the car with the marshals who checked my number as I turned. Back down the road I went, smiling at competitors coming towards me who I knew were a lot further on than I was. At least I was still moving and not feeling any pain, even my thighs were feeling good such is the power of Prolong. Back down the road I came to the water station, a quick left and along the mere for about 400 yards then a turn again with two marshals again checking my number. As I came back I noticed a very tall spectator in a waterproof coat that looked like a tent with two dogs on leads who was encouraging everyone as they went past. I later found out that he had completed Ironman Wales the previous weekend and was here to support his wife in the middle distance event. I continued on towards what would be the finish area before making another turn just short of the finish to start my second lap. The run was very sheltered compared to the bike and as a result I was getting warm. My t shirt and cap came off quite early on and I missed where my partner was stood to give her them so had to do a second loop of this finish turn, much to the crowds amusement.
As I headed up the road on the second lap I could feel my calves start to tighten. It was then that I realised that, even though I had been using Prolong I hadn’t taken on very much water at all. I had missed the water station so persevered with it up to the turning point. As I said earlier, hydration is key with events like this. As it had been cool earlier on I hadn’t really thought to take any water on board, which is unlike me, and now I was feeling the results of that. I knew it wasn’t really that far and all downhill to the water station so ran with it, if you’ll pardon the pun. A couple of cups of water and I set off again. I knew that I would have missed the cramps that could set in by taking water on now. As I headed into the finish turn I smiled at my partner who was still shouting encouragement to me. Little did she know that I was suffering a bit. As I passed the water station on the way out on my third lap I took on some more water and also stopped briefly to eat my remaining flapjack and have some Prolong. That was the kick I needed. The second lap had been tough and I must have been running out of fuel even though I didn’t realise it. I set off at a steady pace up the road again and ran with a lady for a couple of hundred yards while I sorted myself out. Once I was into my stride I headed off. Up to that point I had been running steadily at approximately 9 minute miles and I intended to keep that pace up through the rest of the race. Round the turn and back down the road to the water point. The people coming towards me were decreasing in number and I knew that I was near the back of the field. I wasn’t bothered though, after all the day was all about getting round. I kept smiling at runners and trying to encourage them as they did me. Once I passed the water point I saw the guy with the dogs. He was still there encouraging us all, what a superstar. I rounded the turn near the finish line for the final time, my partner was still there cheering me on along with a few other people who must have known competitors still out on the course.
I kicked for home. There was only just over 3 miles to do and I had done it. Job done!! That gave me a renewed vigour and I passed the water point and headed out up the road. Round the turn at the top and I thanked the marshals. They had done a stirling job all day checking us off and making sure that we were safe and completed the required number of laps. Back down to the water point and I thanked the staff there too, their role was probably the most important of the day. I was nearly there, 13.1 miles run after 48 miles on the bike and a 1.2 mile swim. I was feeling good but knew there wasn’t a sprint finish in me, I just had to get there….. Round the final turn and past the guy with the dogs for the final time. I thanked him for all his encouragement even though he had no idea who I was, that is what this sport is all about. I kicked as best as I could for the line and raised my arms as I came in. I was elated to have actually finished the event. The demons had been beaten!! My partner came to give me a big, if sweaty, hug. It had warmed up considerably by then…. Not only had I proved something to myself but I raised over £350 for MIND, that was an achievement in itself. My time, 6 hours 15 minutes!!! The 6h30 goal well and truly smashed!! I was well impressed, to say the least…….
I took on some water and then went to my partner to find my recovery shake, Herbalife rebuild endurance and rebuild strength combined to give me the best start to the recovery process. I then stretched off as I waited for the final few competitors to come in too. The crew were starting to take it all apart and there was only really the finish area left. That left me disheartened as I didn’t think it was fair that we late finishers should not have the full experience. I continued to stretch off and walk about. If I hadn’t I would have seized up which is not good. As I walked I saw the final few coming in and cheered them as they finished, after all we were all in this together. I saw the guy with the dogs and his wife and went to shake his hand and thank him for all his encouragement, he was surprised at that but accepted it gracefully.
So, where do I go from here? I don’t know to be honest. I have a half marathon in October, which is my last event for the season, and I’m looking at what to do for next year. I know though that it won’t be an Ironman 140.6. The time my training has taken up this year has been massive and I seriously underestimated this. My family and partner have had to put up with me having very early starts and some serious training sessions and they have helped me where possible but they have sacrificed a lot of their time too. I want to do “nice” events in “nice” locations that we can all enjoy and there is something for us all to do around the event itself. I also want to involve my son more, both in the training and the events. He completed his first junior triathlon at Castle Howard in July and did very well. I seem to have inspired him and want to continue to do so and be the best role model I can for him.
I have to thank my gorgeous partner, who hasn’t yet become a triathlon widow and won’t do either, for all her support this year and letting me get on and train with some VERY early starts on Sunday mornings to get the miles in. Also my son for being my training partner some of the time, when he has been able to manage the distances involved, and being my motivation to get out there and do it. My daughter for her support at events and the messages of good luck when she’s not been able to attend. The Penistone Footpath Runners for pushing me harder with my running since joining them in April. Lastly, but by no means least, the Team at Manvers Waterfront Boat Club where I swim in a beautiful clear lake. You are a bunch of superstars and so incredibly motivating, even though I am nowhere near as good as you guys YET.
Here’s to the off season. Keep watching as my Winter training will be documented on here. After all…. Summer triathletes are made in the Winter….