So after I completed Ironman Wales in 2013 and prior to that publicising my ambition to complete only one Ironman, 2015 saw me put my name down for yet another full distance triathlon, Ironman UK, Bolton!
With the Tenby experience still vivid in my head, I had a fairly good idea about the level of training which was required, what worked for me on and off the bike and how running a marathon off a 112 mile bike felt. Prior to this everything was a concern. I had also developed a niggling leg injury after Tenby and with Sam and Neil’s comments during our Mallorca trip still ringing in my ears “too many wasted miles…..what were you hoping to gain from that session??” I had decided to change my training schedule this time around and cut down on the miles and try and balance the work, family, training balance a bit better.
From discussions I had had with other club members who had completed Bolton, I was reassured that the course was nothing compared with Tenby and there was nothing too concerning. As a result I made the following training plan (This is possibly not advisable to everyone). Monday, rest day, a good start to the week! Tuesday, Mere swim at Ellesmere. This started 3 months out from the event and initially was only one 1200m lap in 12 deg waters. As the weeks went by I progressed to two laps and this was the norm for the last 6 weeks. For Tenby I had also been going to the pool twice a week but my speed had never increased so for Bolton I knocked this on the head. Wednesday was spinning. I decided to give this a go to bring some structure to my cycling/run bricks. The session was 1 ½ hours at a fairly high intensity and the runs straight off the back of this ranged from between 4-8 miles. Thursday night was bike night and these rides were approximately 2 hours long with a pace 4-5mph quicker than race pace. Friday night generally ended the way the week started, another rest day! That said, I did have quite a few 5k races on the Friday which were great fun and a nice social event compared to the many solo miles. Saturday and Sunday would be decided nearer the time to make the most of the weather and avoid the wind and rain which seemed to be the norm in the early weeks. One day would be a run and the other would be a long bike just under race pace with a short brick after, max 3 miles. The bikes started at around 60 miles and ramped up to the 100 mile mark with only 3 rides topping the tonne. That said, one 93 mile ride was off-road with Jamie in the Dorset Gravel Dash. The runs slowly increased to the half marathon mark and this was quite regular. Going much beyond that distance was rarely achieved and only two notable runs went higher. 15 steady miles the day before the Cardiff Olympic distance Tri and a 19 mile run along Blackpool promenade whilst visiting my Father-in-law was about it. My thought was that to avoid a potential reoccurrence of my leg injury and with Bolton being an easier route than Tenby, if I got to 13.2 miles on the day the crowd would get me around the rest.
The Saturday was a lovely sunny day, racking was all incident free and my wife and I shared a table at lunch with Mr & Mrs Mawhinney, everything was good in the world! Sunday morning was a whole new ball game however. The rain was persistent at best, horrendous in the main. The rolling start worked really well and if anyone is nervous about an open water swim, this was a great introduction. For me in a strange sort of way I enjoy the argy-bargy of a mass start and like knowing that if you pass the person ahead of you on the road then you have gained a place. This format leaves you wondering. The swim came and went incident free. Sighting buoys 400m away proved difficult in the rain but I had plenty of people to follow. Despite only one swim per week in training, I exited the water in 1 hr 16 min 44 seconds, 15 seconds slower than Tenby. So far so good.
One of my concerns prior to the race was what to wear on the bike. My options were my Tri suit (thanks Mr. Ingram) and a waterproof jacket or arms and a cycling top over my tri suit. I don’t cope well with the cold so the rain jacket was winning the vote but after a discussion with my mentors over lunch the day before and the friendly SYTri officials on the day I opted for the arms and cycle top. The weather forecast had promised for better weather later in the day and I am getting better at convincing myself that pain is temporary and it will improve later. As a word of advice I received from Melissa in T1. I knew I had a band of merry supporter’s en-route and I had planned to take my rain jacket off and throw it on the side of the road when I passed them if the sun came out. Whilst this is not classed as outside assistance, it is littering! It needs to go in your back pocket or in a bin. The first few hours on the bike were tough. Horrendous rain, lots of standing water and the real pain, strong headwinds. I stuck to my race plan, kept a real steady pace, and save my matches for the crowds on the top of Sheephouse lane, Hunters Hill and anywhere else my crew of supporters were congregated. The support on the course was amazing (almost as good as Wales) and in truth I probably should have packed some more matches. With 106 miles done I was on the final stretch back to T2 when out of nowhere I past a Mr Dolphin supporting on his bike. This would not be the last time he would provide encouraging words of wisdom as he continued to pop up during the run. His support along with Mr Onions was really greatly appreciated. I entered T2 as I did in Wales to the words “Well done” as Tony Smalley welcomed me off my bike. These little moments stand out in what can all turn into bit of a blur. I finished the bike in 6 hrs 7 min 38 seconds, just under 10 min quicker than Wales.
I’m sure in hindsight I could have pushed a bit quicker on the bike but I was so concerned about getting through the run that I had held quite a bit back, and boy am I glad I did. I felt really good during the early stages of the run and went through the first half marathon in about 1hr 50min which considering the early terrain and my goal of under 4hrs, I was well on track. During the first lap of the run it was nice to share the same roads with the pros who were already donning a number of lap bands. It didn’t take long however after the first lap for me to realise something, this run is brutal! It wasn’t so much my legs which were telling me to slow down but more the mind, and it’s a powerful thing when it wants to be. The second lap was a real struggle and my average pace started creeping towards the 9min/m mark and that was dangerously close to the 4hr marathon goal I had set myself. With my Wife, Mum, the twins and friends on the route (as well as Dolphin and Onions), I picked up the pace in sections only for the walk through the feed stations to slow considerably (I admit to a walk!). I was still managing to run between the feed stations which was more than can be said for a lot of the other competitors but the gradient out of Bolton was tough and the early morning rain would have been a welcomed cooler as the temperature increased. The mind however decided to play ball for the last lap. With 1 hour to complete the last 6 mile loop to beat the 4 hour goal, I set off up the drag out of Bolton with a spring in my step knowing it was for the last time. I took my red and final band off a cheery lady who was probably surprised as I gave her a big sweaty hug and told her “I love you”. I reached the top turn in a time of 32min and from there it was all downhill with the mass of supporters waiting in the city centre to carry me along. The streets of Bolton were lined with supporters and the atmosphere was special as I approached the Ironman red carpet. As in Tenby, I had planned to take my trusty Welsh flag off my team and loft it above my head for the finishing photo. Unfortunately this didn’t happen and I had 5 seconds to come up with a plan B. It was at that moment the heel kick last adopted during the Llandudno Triathlon jumped into my head as I took flight across the finish line. I completed that last 3 miles in 23 minutes to finish my Marathon in 3 hours 55 minutes and 9 seconds. Dave Mawhinney was in the finishing tent and I pulled up a chair and enjoyed a chat and a slice (or 3) of pizza which at the end of Tenby, talking and certainly eating were both off limits.
And this leads me onto my initial question, why do we do it? Yes, I need the structure and something to train for. Yes you gain and reinforce close friendships like Simon Smith who I shared a training lap of the bike route with and who did amazing on the day. Like Andy Griffiths who is doing Ironman Wales this year (and will also do amazing) as I dragged him swimming every Tuesday night and introduced him to the inspirational Mr & Mrs Mawhinney who have been a constant wealth of information and support. And Dan George who I have spent hours running with like the morning of my brother’s stag do. When you think nothing of running 13.2 miles but dread the thought of drinking for the next two days!
The moment I had looked forward to the most and what had pushed me on during all my training days was not the crossing the line but what happens 50m beyond it. Meeting up with my Wife Nikki, Mum and the team of supporters and enjoying that special moment with them. I was really conscious that after my first Ironman I was in a fairly bad way and spent the next few hours after the event hidden away in the big white tent. This time I wanted to enjoy the moment with them and not leave them hanging around anymore after a full day of cheering me on. This was achieved and I managed to get what I missed and had played on my mind since Tenby, the Why we do it!…..A photo with everyone who had provided me with such great support over my journey.
So is that my Ironman days over? Not likely. I finished Bolton in 11 hours 33 minutes and 18 minutes. 181st overall and 30th in my age group. I’m sure I could have gone a bit quicker in places but for the fear of finishing a mess, I stuck to my plan and knocked 25 minutes of my previous time.
I have a fantastic picture with my wife at the end and one with my full support team on the day but unfortunately not one solely with my Mum. She said it doesn’t matter and she will hate to think she is the reason for my next Ironman but I will get that picture!