(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’!)
(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.
Finishing 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!)
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.
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!
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.