IRONMAN 70.3 Exmoor: Epic!

(Belated race report from IRONMAN 70.3 UK on 26th June 2016)

I’ve done seven ‘half ironman’ distance races, although because they’ve not had the IRONMAN brand they should strictly be referred to, less impressively, as ‘middle distance’ or ‘half distance’.  Half Distance?!!  The cheek of it.  Makes it sound easy!  I’ve always been intrigued to see what the fuss was all about, and why people gleefully pay the exorbitant IRONMAN race fees – typically 3 times what I’m used to paying.  Also, only IRONMAN do what resembles a world championship in my tri distance.  So I signed up for the IRONMAN 70.3 race in Exmoor (N.B. 70.3 refers to the number of miles covered – a bit more respectful than ‘half’/’middle’!)

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(As an aside, when my 6-year old neighbour overheard that I was going to do a race organised by IRONMAN he imagined an entirely different scenario.  He looked a bit confused – comparing his superhero race to the event he’s supported me at at Aberfeldy.  Bless him!)

On race weekend my parents brought their caravan down from Bristol for the race, which also brought a whole new level of relaxation to the race logistics.  The campsite was encircled by the run course and was a short walk from the start, which prevented the usual race-morning transportation issues, and queues for the woefully inadequate numbers of portaloos.  Oh the luxury! ( It also meant my parents could nip back for breakfast and a nap during my cycle).

The swim was great in my lovely Aqua Sphere Phantom wetsuit, but because I forgot to defog my goggles I was unable to see the buoys I was supposed to be swimming round.  So I blindly followed whichever splashes I could see in front of me, hoping that the creators of the splashes knew which way to go.  Although I couldn’t see much, the Phantom suit is so distinctive that at least my parents had no problem spotting me exiting the water.  I was really surprised to have managed a 1.9 km PB of 30:00.

swimgifFinishing the swim marked the last flat terrain of the race.  I was anxious about the cycle because it would be the hilliest I’d ever raced (1500 m/5000 ft elevation gain).  I also knew that on my lovely new bike Rinny the temptation would be to go hell for leather, which had wrecked my legs for the run at the recent Grafman race.  So the ‘plan’ was to NOT GO HARD UP THE HILLS.

Early in the cycle I overtook a few women, including Karen Lennox from my 40-44 age group: an athlete I knew I had to watch given her strong performance for Team GB in Rimini last year.  (I should say that going into this race my hope was for an age group medal – I wasn’t thinking about overall placings – so wasn’t worried about racing women who weren’t in my age group).  I was taking the hills in my stride and enjoying the course, but started to wonder if I should ease off a bit when I realised that no women were overtaking me.  Or should I capitalise on my hill-climbing ability to strengthen my position, whatever that was?  It turns out that I was in the lead for a lot of the cycle – news that my parents heard announced by the commentator back at transition, but I had no idea about.  The first inkling I got was getting back to transition, with Melissa King – who had overtaken me seconds earlier – being announced as the first lady!  The 92 km bike leg had taken 3 hours 13 minutes (which, when compared with the 2:40 I cycled recently at Grafman tells you all you need to know about the hilliness of this course!)

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So the race changed instantly for me then: I knew I was leading my age group, but I was also very unexpectedly near the front of the overall race!  I was stunned and inspired, given the size and prestige of this IRONMAN race.  I zoomed* out of transition onto the run course (*well, it felt like zooming anyway), greeting my very excited parents (and their brown, understated ‘GO LIZ!’ banner on a stick) as I passed.  Also surprising was that my legs felt OK: maybe this half marathon would be OK after all.  The hilly course soon banished that comfortable feeling.  Cruelly, this was also the hilliest half marathon I’d ever run, with an elevation gain of 280 m (920 ft).  I tried to keep the women in front in view, but this got harder and harder.  I knew my pace was dropping so I just dug in and hoped I could hang on to age group gold.  Twice a lap I got to see Mum and Dad (and the banner), which cheered me up and helped me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  Their enthusiastic support was infectious and soon complete strangers were yelling ‘Go Liz!’ as I passed.

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On the third and final lap the struggle nearly got the better of me, when the usual ‘why am I doing this to myself?’ thoughts started rattling around my head.  But I realised I was gaining on the woman ahead of me (or at least, her pace was dropping faster than mine was).  I moved into fourth place by overtaking her, and hoped she didn’t have enough left in the tank to make a race of it.  Fortunately she didn’t.  But then, had I left enough in the tank to even get to the finish line?  This final lap was a confusing jumble of questioning, self-doubt, motivation and emotion, as I passed now-familiar sights for the last time.  Rounding the bend into the finish chute was fantastic – I ‘sprinted’ for the finish line grinning my head off, and finally spotted my parents’ little brown sign waving frantically in front of me.  I’d made it!  The run took 1:43:48 (my half marathon PB is 1:30, and in a triathlon is usually more like 1:36, so this indicates the hilliness of this course).  My total time was 5:32:57 – only 9 minutes behind the overall winning lady – so not too shabby at all.  Overall results here.

I really enjoyed most of this race, and will gladly pay the exorbitant fee to do it again in future.  Another draw for me to return is that by winning my age group this time I qualified for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Australia later this year, but I can’t go.  So I’d like to try to qualify again in 2017 or 2018.  Exmoor 70.3: I’ll be back!IMG_4815

Many thanks to my parents for all their help over the weekend.  And ongoing thanks to Altium-i10 for simulated altitude training, Aropec for tri kit, Aqua Sphere for swim kit, Leith Cycle Co for bike maintenance, my squad-mates in HBC JETS for making the training more enjoyable, and coach Joel Enoch for superb coaching that is helping me achieve more than I thought I could.

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What a season: 6 firsts in 6 triathlons!

I started this year just being chuffed to have qualified for the European Championships, determined to do myself proud.  So from January I trained my arse off (literally, someone pointed out), and amazed myself with an overall first in Trowbridge’s Big T Standard Tri in early May (my first ever triathlon win), and then winning my age group at the European Championships later that month.  This was shaping up to be an awesome year!

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Continue reading “What a season: 6 firsts in 6 triathlons!”

Triathlon love rekindled! (plus some bling)

Ahh, after Aberfeldy’s unpleasantness two weeks ago normal service has been resumed as I totally loved the Haddington Sprint Triathlon today.  Phew.  Sprint triathlons – a wee 750 m swim, 20 k bike and 5 k run – are much shorter than I’ve been training for, so I didn’t put much pressure on myself.  It was an end-of-season blast.

The swim was hard (12:02), the cycle was fast (35:23), and I felt really strong on the run (20:50).  Apart from when I accidentally took on a tree, and the tree won.  I finished in 1:09:38: a full 11 minutes quicker than my 2013 time on the same course (~1 min faster swim, ~7 min faster bike, and ~2 min faster run).  I thoroughly loved the race, and was overjoyed with that result.  And then I found out I was first female overall!  A good day out.  Triathlon: all is forgiven.

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My most unpleasant race to date: Aberfeldy 2015

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A very calm Loch Tay, before the swim

Triathlon is a hobby, for me and many others who will never make a career out of it.  A leisure-time pursuit undertaken for pleasure.  Some people think that our hobby doesn’t sound very pleasurable.  During this year’s Aberfeldy Middle Distance tri I started to see their point.  It was an unpleasant struggle and made me question continuously what I was doing it for.  Why was I continuing to cycle when I was whole-body shivering and couldn’t work out whether my fingers were frozen solid or just stuck together with energy gel?  Why was I continuing to run towards the turnaround point knowing that every step took me further from Aberfeldy – the nearest cuppa and hot shower – while my Achilles ached, my feet were prickling with pins and needles and my spirits flagged?  Why was I doing this ‘for fun’ in my spare time?  I had no answers. Continue reading “My most unpleasant race to date: Aberfeldy 2015”

Castles Challenge: what a race!

My first triathlon podium – and when I realised I might be quite good at middle distance – was provided by the Castles Challenge race in Bamburgh in 2014. Almost a year to the day after this (26th July 2015) I returned to the scene to see if I could ascend the podium from last year’s 3rd place.   In my favour was the fact that my training had been better, and I had some good confidence-boosting results behind me.  But going against me was the fact that the swim was unlikely to be as wrong (as long) as last year, and that I’d taken advice to treat this as a training day rather than an important race (so that I’d be in better shape for the Scottish Championships in Aberfeldy three weeks later).  This meant I hadn’t ‘tapered’ my training off, so I wasn’t as well rested as I could have been (e.g., I’d swum a hard 4 km set two days earlier).  
Continue reading “Castles Challenge: what a race!”

ETU European Middle Distance Championships 2015: Race Report

rimini mapI’d only started to get some good race results in 2014, so this was my first triathlon for Team GB.  I had travelled to Rimini, Italy, alone, for a recce and relaxation week, but met up with two seasoned GB triathletes in the evenings for dinner.  They gave me two bits of information that changed my outlook on the whole race.  And probably influenced my result.  Firstly, that the top three GB finishers in each age group would automatically qualify for the subsequent European Championships.  And secondly, that the competition, and their previous form, could be easily perused online.  Cue Project Qualify-For-Next-Year.

Continue reading “ETU European Middle Distance Championships 2015: Race Report”

European Championships? Ready, set, ….

So: I qualified to represent Team GB in the European Championships for middle distance triathlon (half ironman) in Rimini, Italy in 2015!!!  What?!!!  Not me surely – the kid who would have got 10/10 for effort at school but never quite made the netball or hockey teams, and was only ever involved in sports day because no-one else could be persuaded to run the 1500 m?rimini

Continue reading “European Championships? Ready, set, ….”

Race Report: Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon 2013

In the week before the race I intended to write a short blog post about how I thought I could have prepared differently for the event, without the benefit of post-race hindsight.  Then I’d reassess after the race and see if I was correct, or was worrying about nothing or about the wrong things.  It would have been so neat, but I never got round to it (such an amateur blogger).

Continue reading “Race Report: Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon 2013”

Week Two: Getting back on the horse

Week two didn’t live up to the high ideals of the training plan. I now realise this was inevitable, but it took me a while to get my head round that. And to go a bit easier on myself about the implications of the setback.

Physically I had a lot of bruising on my legs, and my shoulders and neck had a permanent stiffness that wouldn’t go away. But I felt surprisingly OK when running and swimming, so thought I could keep these up as planned even if I didn’t have a bike to train on. My ankles felt a little tender – they must’ve got a jolt when my bike shoes were ripped out of the pedals during the crash – but they soon got back into stride. Continue reading “Week Two: Getting back on the horse”