Ironman Staffordshire 70.3 2017

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Finally it had arrived – my A race. The first ever Ironman branded event I would complete, and the one I had planned so much around and trained for this year. Before I begin, I warn you now, it is a long blog post. I thought I’d better do it justice. My condition for swim and bike is something I certainly can’t argue with, however as you all probably know, my run fitness has taken a nose dive due to injury. I approached this race with a slightly different mindset to the previous few, where I had hoped going into each one something miraculous would happen and my knee would be magically healed. With this race, I didn’t go in thinking this. I knew I’d struggle on the run with pain, and shuffle my way through, so Danny, control the things you can and don’t worry about those you can’t! That was the new mindset and do you know what? Low and behold, I was in for a nice surprise (more of this later).

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I spent the Friday evening packing and carrying out a few bike adjustments. The front brake need adjustment as the cable wasn’t sitting quite right through the bars. I wanted it sorted before flying down some of those descents! I’m glad I did it now. I also corrected the hydration unit tubing by cutting it and adjusting the hose length. Both issues I noticed and encountered during the Outlaw event.

We travelled up to Staffordshire on Saturday morning, and went straight to the city centre to pick up parking tickets. The next stop involved a jaunt onto Shugborough estate where the run would take place and the race finished. It is a beautiful setting for a race, but bloody hell Ironman, the logistics and organisation with split transitions, which are miles apart, are something new to me that I can’t say I enjoy.

I spent an evening mid-week trying to work it all out. It was planned and went something like this:

  1. Travel to Shugborough to race registration. Oh – before I can do that, I need to get parking tickets (yep you are charged for this – £12 for whole weekend). Damn! I’m too late booking for them to post (no email telling me that!) so I book them anyway and have to travel into Stafford to pick up at a theatre!
  2. Finally arrive at race registration and get all my numbers and stick them on the variety of bags. There are 3 you know!
  3. Put all you running gear into the red bag and rack this in T2 (the bike finishes here for the start of the run)
  4. Attend a race briefing – supposedly mandatory.
  5. Now make my way to T1 at Chasewater – 25 mins in car and again with no parking!
  6. Find a place to park and walk to the sight with the bike and this time with the blue bag (all the cycling gear needed for after the swim).
  7. Finally done and make our way to the hotel.

It felt like I’d done an ironman before the ironman! In all honesty, the logistics were a nightmare and the organisation of it is slightly ridiculous if you ask me. I don’t mind about the split transition, which is common in Ironman events, but the lack of parking at the venues is no help whatsoever. It just makes everything a pain. Anyway, everything was mainly completed to the plan above except I didn’t attend the mandatory race briefing. I was too late and no doubt that they just regurgitate what is in the guide. The problem with these split transitions is that you are always wondering if you left everything you need at each place. I mean, I rack my run bag with my trainers and visor, so what has the guy with the bag next to me got in his that is so bloody huge! We made our way to T2 and racked the bike as planned. Isabel (my daughter) had fallen asleep so I went off to do this whilst Kate (my wife) waited with her.

Our hotel was around 15 mins away in the car and I had the idea to book a cab/taxi for the morning to get me to the event without the wife and daughter having to be dragged out with me. My race was starting at 7:30am and wanted to get into T1 at the swim start to get finally organised and add some last minute gels, food and drinks to the bike. This meant a 4:30am wake up and 5:15am out the door. A nice relaxing evening meal in the hotel trying to get as much fluid down my neck as possible so I was fully hydrated. I also got my white bag ready with my swim gear in that i would leave my clothes I was wearing in for Ironman to transport to Shugborough.

Race Day

Up and ready as planned with he trusty porridge for breakfast. My cab picked me up at the time arranged meaning I arrived at Chasewater with plenty of time to spare. I hate rushing for these things and find a bit of extra time to relax and prepare is good for me. What I really like about these events is the opportunity to mingle with the pro athletes. They are there with you in transition and most are really friendly, especially Lucy Gossage, who went on to win it for the third year in a row. It’s great to be able to check out their gear and set up. I didn’t have my phone with me and unfortunately missed a few opportunities for photos.

Swim

The swim was pretty uneventful to be honest. I really like the idea of rolling starts, where they set you off in 3s and 4s roughly 10 or 20 seconds apart, meaning you are not all fighting each other for clear water. It wasn’t my fastest swim ever, but I kept a little back considering the boiling day ahead of me. In and out for 36:55.

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Bike

I did consider using the road bike for this event with just under 2600ft of climbing, but eventually decided with the new steed. Climbing is certainly harder and slower on the tri bike with bigger gearing! I flew around the first 15 miles averaging 18.5mph and didn’t feel too hot. I also knew that the course would become a little tougher. The hydration system was working beautifully as well since the adjustments. I realised I was going through an incredible amount of fluid and used every feed station to top up with water. I had loaded before the race with 1.5L in my bike unit containing 3000mg of sodium. I also had salt pills with me and an extra sachet. This I lost as it came out of the pouch on the bike, but the pills came into use then. Did they work? Well I didn’t suffer one cramp in the entire race and felt fully hydrated throughout. You may remember my visit to the sweat experts earlier in the year, which I believed has now paid off as I stuck to the hydration plan.

One thing I did notice on the bike was the heat. Eventually it got to me. I certainly slowed down finishing with an overall average of 17.2mph. It also became a little more lumpy, and at around 45 miles in, the worst of those hills was savoured. I arrived in transition after 3hours and 16mins on the bike.

Run

The bit I was least looking forward to. I think you all know why. It went like this – 1km, no pain, 2km – no pain, 3km – no pain and so on. No bloody knee issues whatsoever apart from a little stiffness. If anyone suffers from ITB, I have the routine to get you back from injury. I’ve suffered it twice and followed the same routine to great effect. Much quicker back from injury this time as I knew what I was dealing with and how to deal with it. The rehab has certainly paid off, but unfortunately I had lost so much run fitness. Along with this was the stifling heat (30c) and a few longish hills to run up.

The crowd support was fantastic throughout. They really got behind you. I wouldn’t say three loops whizzed by, although the crowd certainly helped me along. Some amazing residents had their hose pipe sprays going constantly. I cannot explain how difficult the heat was, but every opportunity for water was taken. I walked through every feed station chucking a cup down my neck and then one over my head. Each loop of the run was faced by the hill – I only ran up it once. I have never walked in the running part of a triathlon or when running a half marathon, however the heat and lack of run fitness broke me. Mentally it was the toughest race or anything physically I have done. I like to think that I can suffer pretty well and grind things out when they are hard, but not then. The end goal was to finish and I wasn’t going for a time so I did just that. My slowest ever half marathon – a whopping 2hrs and 23mins! A total time of 6 hr and 29mins. Do I care about the time? Hell no! Not in that heat. I honestly know I can go a lot faster (my Outlaw was 6:10 and the injury was at its strongest then), certainly sub 5 hrs, but this will be a goal for next year now as I do not have anymore half iron events planned for the remainder of the year.

This was the last time Ironman were holding this event at Shugborough, so it is not possible to do this exact same event again. It is too early to plan next season just yet. I know my wife wasn’t too pleased with the logistics as well as the spectating on the day. It took her ages to get into the grounds because of the road closures, and the fact no-one could tell her how to get in was so frustrating. Every marshall was clueless – and no fault of their own, but Ironman. What was a shame was that these poor people had not been informed and considering the amount of money Ironman charge and make, more effort into this side of things could have been made.

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Isabel enjoyed the medal…and a croissant!

As we had the day off from work to travel back on Monday, we had a good day at an adventure park on the way home as well. I was as stiff as a board but managed to clamber about with Isabel for a bit – although very slowly!

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Next up you wonder? Well the Eton swim next weekend, followed by the Great Newham swim and run the weekend after. Plus I will keep going with my injury rehab and start running again at the end of this week. The build up again begins to get some sort of run fitness back before the London Triathlon towards the end of July.

Happy reading guys and I’d appreciate if you hit the like buttons.

Blenheim Triathlon 2017

IMG_0780.JPGMy favourite pic of the whole weekend (at the end)

So this is the third year in a row I have completed this triathlon. It’s a great event – especially for novice triathletes and those who are getting into the sport. You always notice this on the bike leg and the many in transition not knowing what to do. The venue is terrific and the course not the easiest one out there, but relatively straight forward. It was quite funny this year as I was next to one such novice competitor. I remember the days well when I was in this position, but I have never put on a wetsuit backwards or not been able to attach my numbers (no race belt and forgotten safety pins), which this poor chap did. I must say, triathletes are helpful people as were the Tri-Crew, and with a collaborative effort, he was ready to go and completed his first triathlon successfully.

Again I entered the sprint event as in two weeks time I will tackle Ironman Staffordshire – another half (70.3) distance event. I planned this, which is sandwiched between the Outlaw and Staffs, as a way to keep me race ready and on my toes. The one thing about sprint events is that it is a completely different effort to ironman. Your heart rate is through the roof and trying to get it under control is difficult.

The big question I had in my head was how my current knee issue was going to cope or where was the injury was currently at. I had some positive feelings beforehand. Stiffness had gone and I’d managed a 20 min run without problem in the week to test it. Unfortunately, I soon found out that it is still a problem…boo hoo! It was good for 2K, and then the pain reared its ugly head and I just battled through to the end.

One of the positives of this event is that as it is held at Blenheim Palace and doesn’t travel outside the grounds. It means the waves do not start ridiculously early as there aren’t roads to be closed or junctions to be managed. My start time was 10.00 and it was good to have my wife Kate, and daughter Isabel with me again supporting. I was a little lonely at the Outlaw without them 😦  The wife dropped me off at 8:00am and went back to the hotel to eat breakfast whilst I set up in transition and readied myself. I would see them next out on course.

IMG_0749The hotel room floor mess before leaving!

I have always used a road bike at Blenheim, however now I have the triathlon bike, I contemplated using that instead this time although eventually decided against it. I honestly believe there is not much advantage to be gained using it on this course as it is quite technical in places, and with the amount of novice riders on the course and lack of opportunity to stay down on the tri-bars for long, I went with the road bike.

Registration and racking were as smooth as usual although there were extra checks in place for spectators (and rightly so). I write this waking up after the terror issues along Tower Bridge. My thoughts are with all those involved.

It would be interesting to see where my form was currently at since my previous two events and the lack of run training. Usually Blenheim is a season opener for me, but this would be my third race of the 2017 season.

Below I’ve done some comparisons from each year for each discipline to show you how I compare. To be honest, I haven’t trained for sprint distance this year and my training has been all endurance based around Z2 heart rate, so it would be interesting to see what it has done. It felt hard on the bike and I tried to get my heart rate down and find some rhythm, which took two laps and by the third, I felt a lot more in control. It’s an undulating bike course and more or less straight out of transition you are climbing.

Blenheim has taught me a few things about my pre-race breakfast as well over my past participation. This is the race that taught me never to eat eggs pre-race! Why? Well if any of you remember, this is the race I suffered terrible stitch each of the last two years, and the cause was my breakfast – boiled eggs. So now I always stick with the trusted porridge…

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This is a new one that my wife discovered. Great amount of protein (20g) as well as a packing a good amount of carbs. It tastes good also.

The Swim: (750m)

I’m going to start with the comparisons from year on year. I think they will give you (in a nutshell) my performance on the day.

Swim Time 2015: 16:22             Swim Time 2016: 14:34               Swim Time 2017:    13:45

A big tick for the swim then! I knew I had a good swim and positioned myself towards the front and as triathlon swims go, there was very little fighting through the hundreds of bodies. Out of 2600 swims on the day, mine was 300 fastest.

IMG_0752I’ve been trying to get Isabel to high five me during races and we have finally cracked it!

Transition is a 400m run from swim to bike with the majority up hill – again difficult to get the heart rate down!

The Bike: (19.8km)

Bike 2015: 42:51                Bike 2016: 44:19              Bike: 43: 30

So faster then last year but not as quick as 2015. I haven’t done any sprint efforts in training and this would certainly be worth considering if training specifically for this event.

The Run: (5.4km)

Run 2015:  30:52               Run 2016:  30:13             Run 2017:  28:33

Improvements again we see and finally I have completed a run here without a stitch, but battled my knee pain from 2k onwards. Always something! I still really have something to give to this run and would like to compete at Blenheim once without some sort of issue. It’s also hard to tell whether I have lost much run fitness as I felt really good (apart from the knee). What is strange is the knee hurts less the longer the run goes on and when going up hill. Hopefully it completely disappears over the ironman run leg but to be honest, I am dreading this part of the race. My attention again will go to rehab in the next two weeks and strengthening, although I don’t think this will do much. I think I need a full rest from running, racing and proper rehab.

Overall race time:

2015:      1:37:56                  2016:    1:36:58                2017:     1:32:31

So a course PB by over 4 mins which I can’t argue with. I have also looked at the transition times (our fourth discipline) to compare these.

Swim to Bike: (T1)

2015: 5:18                  2016: 5:25                 2017: 4:49

Bike to Run: (T2)

2015: 2:24                   2016: 2:29                 2017: 1:51

So definitely time gained in transition!

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Next blog will be Ironman Staffs 70.3! See you then.