Ironman UK, Bolton, July 2015 – Race Report by Tony Cullen

tony-cullen-IMUK15

At the end of the 2014 season I had decided that IMUK 2015 was going to be my A race for that year as I had raced it twice before and had not been completely satisfied with my performances.  The idea was to build the training patiently throughout the year to hopefully peak in July for IMUK, accepting that earlier races were not going to be as successful as I would have liked.

It was difficult going to places like Challenge Dubai & Ironman South Africa in February & March respectively knowing I had not achieved the training necessary to maximise my chances of success.  That being said I still expected to go there and race well with what i had.  Things actually went better than expected and I came 2nd in AG in Dubai and 6th in AG in IMSA.

After a few smaller races I headed to Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire in June where I was now expecting a strong race.  Training had picked up and had gone well with good consistency.  I raced very well and won my wave by roughly 6 minutes but finished 2nd in my AG by 1 minute to another athlete who raced in another wave (there were 2 waves in my AG).  The signs were there in this race that said I was now fit and with a couple more weeks of training to tick off some key sessions I was ready for IMUK.  I never really feel any pressure going into races but IMUK 2015 was a bit different.  After finishing in all top 7 positions in my AG over the years in Ironman I now wanted that elusive AG win!  I knew I was fit but was I fit enough?

IMUK 19th July 2015

Swim: 1:00hr

3am wake up call.  Last bike check and down to the swim start to get ready for the rolling start.  Got myself right to the front and hoped I could hang onto some faster swimmers.  This didn’t really go to plan as they were all too fast and just swam away!  The swim start had no dramas and was completely uneventful apart from absolutely chucking it down whilst out on the second lap.  Exited the swim with a few seconds over the hour …first job done!

51st overall, 8th in AG

Bike: 5hr 25min

I decided not wear a gilet etc on the bike as the rain was supposed to pass within the hour so braved the weather and hoped the forecast was accurate.

Onto the bike and headed out of Pennington flash.  As I approached the left hand turn out of the flash I quickly realised that my brakes were not working at all due to the rain so I had to roll onto the opposite side of the road with my foot down scraping on the floor to get round the corner.  I managed to carry on riding slowly as the first section was flat whilst asking spectators for allen keys.  There was no way I could get to the decent at Sheephouse without brakes.  I knew there was an aid station just before Sheephouse so hoped I could get some help there.  After roughly 40 minutes of some very sketchy riding I finally arrived at the first aid station.  I spotted a mechanics tent, slammed on my brakes to stop and eventually stopped using my feet again about 40m down the road.  A guy came running down with allen keys and I adjusted the brakes and got going again.  Whoever that was Thank You!

I finally got going and headed up over Sheephouse and settled into a good rhythm and feeling good.  The rain was still hammering down but now I had brakes I could begin to ride properly and didn’t care about the rain.

The support around the bike course was incredible at times considering the weather which was a real help in keeping your spirits up on such a messy day.  I have got to mention the TES & Hubsters on Hunters Hill the COLTS at Rivington, Preston Tri  in Wigan and many more all over the course, absolutely brilliant you guys made the race. Oh and also those Lunatics at the top of Sheephouse, loved it.  Big Thanks!!

After a couple of hours the rain had stopped and it had began to warm up a bit!!  As I headed onto the second lap my girls had given me some splits and placings.  I had managed to take the lead in AG and was in the top 18 overall which I was a bit surprised about but also very happy.  I kept my effort steady and constant and I felt really good.  The rain had affected my power metre and it was reading some very high numbers so I chose not to follow it and used HR instead as a measure of my effort. At about 77 miles into the bike I noticed that my front wheel had begun to slide around, puncture!  This was now the first time I had ever used Pitstop and I had read many stories of it not working so I was very worried that my race was going to end there.  I did exactly what I had read and boom! it worked.  I can’t tell you how happy I was, thank you Pitstop!! It literally gave me a huge lift and from then on I thought this could be my day.  I caught a couple of guys that had gone past whilst fixing the puncture and arrived in T2 feeling pretty good.

Now 16th overall, 1st in AG

I certainly was not getting carried away whilst leading my AG off the bike as I had been in this situation before and there is still a very long way to go, anything could happen.

T2 is an awesome place at IMUK as it is packed with family, friends, fellow athletes and supporters cheering everybody on, just what you need after a solo 112 miles on the bike in those conditions.  It just doesn’t last very long as you head straight out onto the marathon as fast as you can.

Run 3hr 20min

I set off at a steady pace that I knew I could hold and couldn’t wait to get onto the loops and hear the support.  Within 3 miles I had lost 3 places to other age groupers running very fast, (sub 7 min miles) but I ignored these and stuck to my plan.  There was still a long way to go! As I’ve always said you get the first 10 miles for free in an Ironman, it’s what happens after which makes or breaks your race.

I was feeling pretty good and kept things controlled and just hoped the wheels didn’t fall off.  In my mind I break a marathon down into sections 6m 10m 16m 20m 26m this really helps mentally.  On the loops it seemed like there was a friend shouting your name almost all the way round , the noise and support was awesome.

I had been told I had a healthy lead in my AG and it wasn’t changing.  I only live locally so had many friends out supporting dotted all around the run course which was a great help.  I got to 16 mile and was still holding pace and feeling ok but not willing to take anything for granted as you can go from running well to walking in 100metres.  As I counted the last 10 mile down I was just waiting for the legs to go but it just never happened.  Onto the last lap and two of the 3 guys that past me at the very beginning of the marathon had come back to me.

After making the final turn at the top of the loops I knew I had it, my first Ironman AG win and I couldn’t wait to get to the red carpet and celebrate with my girls.

I finally crossed the line in 9hrs 53mins!

15th Overall , 1st in AG

Kona!

Although I managed to secure my 5th consecutive Kona qualification slot I have turned it down again.  I understand how lucky and privileged I am to be able to qualify but I still feel I’m improving over the Ironman distance.

I really want to go but will only be able afford it once, as I have a young family who also race triathlon and would want to share the experience with me.  So I want to go there when I believe I can give it my very best shot.  I expect within the next 2-3 years.

Now I’m looking forward to watching and supporting my own coached athletes as they race their final few A races.

Last of all a massive congratulations to all that finished Ironman UK this year.  I personally knew many who were racing and you all did incredibly well.  An Ironman race is tough, Ironman UK is very tough but Ironman UK in those conditions is as tough as it will ever get, so very well done to everyone who finished.

Next up Ironman Austria 2016 for an 8hr 59min finish!!!!  We have to dream big…

Train hard, smart & be safe.

Tony

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