You have to give Ironman credit; they do this whole triathlon thing rather well. It’s 6.30am. The sun is rising over the dramatic cliffs of the Jurassic coast. The cloudless sky is reflected in the millpond-like waters of Weymouth bay. The music is cued up and 2700 athletes are making their final preparations for the inaugural Ironman Weymouth. It’s going to be a beautiful day.
The weekend had begun for us with an epic drive down to Weymouth from Chester with TTT Head Coach Chris, who is also racing, and our support team; TTT coach Phil. I’d put the child’s booster seat in for Phil, but apparently he doesn’t always use one. I realise why when half way down the M6 he curls up on the back seat and goes to sleep. I hadn’t realised that Weymouth is in fact quite close to the equator. Or so it seemed in Friday afternoon traffic! Chris has once again surpassed himself with the choice of accommodation and we explode into it with all our kit.
On Saturday we go for a swim to ‘acclimatise’. The conditions couldn’t have been more different to race day. Had we had surfboards (and been able to actually surf) we would have had a great time. As it was it was a bit like swimming in a washing machine. We all emerged dizzy and seasick, much to the amazement of a local dog walker who clearly thought we were all nuts. No arguments there.
We were planning to do a short ride too, but Chris absolutely refuses to go out in the wet weather. He has what appears to be very expensive talcum powder on his chain and is concerned it might wash off. Apparently it is in fact some wax treatment that will save many, many watts. For anyone wanting to look this pro without the cost, the same effect could be achieved by letting a five year old loose on your drive chain with a bottle of talc.
Fortunately the sun eventually comes out so we do a short ride and then rack our bikes in transition. That night we meet for dinner with the other TTT athletes doing the race. Those competing can easily be discriminated from the supporters by the contents of their glass.
The 4am race day alarm seems almost worth it as we now stand behind the beach, watching the beautiful sunrise. There is both a full distance Ironman and Ironman 70.3 running simultaneously today. It’s a rolling swim start and we position ourselves near the front of the long snake of athletes stretching out along the beach, waiting for the race to begin.
I absolutely love this bit. I reflect on all the hard work and training that has gone into getting to the start line. How lucky we are to be standing here, all the support we have received from family and friends to reach this point. Now for the fun part; the race! The adrenaline is flowing. The atmosphere is one of collective anticipation. The perfect conditions only adding to the experience. Brilliant. Lets get it done.
As the horn goes we file down across the start mat. In my head the plan here is an elegant run and dive into the water. Unfortunately the stony beach results in a somewhat more cautious approach while squeaking “ow-ow-ow” with each stride. I then lose my footing, stagger and bellyflop spectacularly into the shallow water. I’m aware the person next to me is still striding over the water. Not wanting to repeat my impression of a poorly coordinated walrus, I decide just to start swimming, and get on with it.
It is very good of Ironman to have an oil tanker positioned the horizon in line with the first turn buoy. It makes sighting very easy and even I manage to swim in a vaguely straight line. I exit the water in 28 minutes and get a shout out from the commentator. I wave and get a big cheer from the large crowds. It really is a great atmosphere.
Transition is massive. My Garmin is on my bike which is a slight oversight as I could do with some sort of GPS to find the damn thing. The crowds are big as we leave T1 and I hear Phil shouting out time checks. Personally I thought:
“You must have swum like a choad” was a bit harsh. He maintains he said:
“The others are just up the road.” I think he was getting his own back for the booster seat gag.
The bike course is stunning. Heading out briefly along the coast before turning inland, but it is deceptively tough. The climbs keep coming and are followed by quick descents before climbing again. There is little let up or chance for the legs to recover. That said; if there is a better surfaced 90km in the UK I’m yet to find it. Beautiful smooth roads, lined with cheering spectators in the villages.
On an out and back section I see where we are in the field. Chris is right up there at the front end of the age-group race. I’m slightly further back leading a pace-line which includes Team Freespeed athlete Charles Pennington. This remains the case until about the 75km mark when Charles flies past on a climb, pushing a massive gear. Speaking to him afterwards he tells me this was a deliberate move to get clear of us and make it stick. As I continue to gain experience at this distance it is a reminder of how strong these top guys are. I have to let him go but I’m loving being in the thick of the race.
I come into T2 by myself and as I exit get another shout from the commentator. I give a thumbs up prompting him to comment that I was “making it look easy.” Clearly Ironman need to sign some kind of sponsorship deal with Specsavers. I was making it look anything but easy.
After the first couple of miles I’m heading along the front through the increasing crowds. They seem to be making a lot of noise, although I keep hearing comments like ‘one of the top females.’ I’m starting wonder if people are seeing the (very) pink sleeves of the TTT kit and jumping to conclusions, or whether it’s not just the commentator who should have gone to Specsavers. I then realise that Natalie Seymour, the second female pro is coming up behind me. She passes me about the 6km mark. I try to follow but my legs are steadfast in their protest.
Today was always planned to be a bit of a test for me. If I rode at a higher power on the bike, how long could I hold my run pace for. The answer; about 7km. And the next 14 are pretty painful! I adopt a speed-shuffle (I use the word ‘speed’ loosely), stay on top of the nutrition and get through it. Phil does his best, making encouraging noises as I pass him on each lap. Although:
“You’re actually looking alright,” is obviously a complete lie.
As I approach the finish I come onto the ‘magic carpet’ as Ironman call it. Personally I could have done with a magic carpet for the last 14km, not 14m! It is great feeling finishing the race. A combination of pleasure and relief. Tired as I am I keep running straight past some startled volunteers, straight into the portaloo. I couldn’t blame blowing up on the run on being dehydrated!
In the athletes lounge afterwards I catch up with Chris, Charles an others while consuming Coke, bananas and Dominos pizza (seriously)! Chris has taken the win in our age-group win with Charles in third. My less-than-impressive run has dropped me back to 9th. Chris is also third age-grouper overall, a great performance.
After the prize ceremony we head out for some food and a couple of drinks. Our celebrations are somewhat tempered by all being knackered. We are put to shame however by several of the pro field whom, much to our surprise, are celebrating a good days racing by hitting the karaoke! No names, but all I can say is it’s a good job they’re good at triathlon!
So Ironman Weymouth 70.3 was a great race in a stunning location. Always learning, I’ve got plenty to work on moving forwards. But just maybe I’ve go a bit more in common with the pros than I thought: I cant sing either!
Massive thanks as always to Chris at Total Tri Training for the great coaching, to Eureka Cycles for their ongoing support and Helen and the boys for all their love and support.
Until next time,