Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 12th June 2016
I’m really sorry for my lack of blog posts recently, I’ve just been busy having fun and now I’m back at work. In the first week in June I was away with friends to Barcelona for Primavera sound music festival, followed by a trip to Wales, completing Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 and then down to Cornwall for a friend’s wedding.
In this blog post I will be about my Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 race.
The two weeks before my race weren’t really ideal… I think I enjoyed tapering too much. For friends who aren’t into fitness, tapering means reducing exercise before a race/competition so your performance peaks on race day. It doesn’t mean you should stop training altogether, just that you should cut back on the volume and intensity prior to race day. In Barcelona I ran once, had one gym session and drank lots of cocktails… Oops!
I arrived in Staffordshire Friday evening before the Ironman 70.3, my parents live locally to the race so I was able to relax at home and have Mum’s home cooked dinner. I read the race pack, double checked my kit, completed a full check on my bike and had an earlyish night. I noticed at this point I didn’t have any bike leavers in my puncture repair kit, panicked and then realised I would be going to a triathlon expo tomorrow morning so could buy some before dropping off my bike in transition. I ran three miles after all my preparations to calm my nerves and help me sleep.
On Saturday morning I went down to Shugborough Hall for the triathlon expo and race briefing with my Mum. I checked in and got my race pack. We arrived early on Saturday and the bike stall wasn’t open, a very kind man on the stall beside them for Staffordshire County council gave me some leavers for free, I was so relieved and thanks again Staffordshire County Council!
I had three ‘firsts for this race’; it was the first time I had to drop my kit off the day before a race, first Ironman event and also my first point to point race. This means there are two transitions, I had to sort my kit into two bags, drop them off in two different places and also rack up my bike. I think I felt more stressed about this than completing the actual race! I’m used to arriving race day with all my stuff and just laying everything out by my bike in transition about an hour before it starts.
I usually always forget something on race day, this time was my race belt with a pouch. Lucky I had my other race belt in my bag so no big problem. I was going to put my flapjack in the pouch but my tri suit has pockets, so placed my flapjack in my bike bag and hoped I would remember on race day (which I did).
I was given three bags, blue for the swim to bike transition, red for the bike to run transition and white for after the race. The bike to run transition (T2) was at Shugborough hall so headed back to the car, put my running shoes and extra gels in the bag. I checked the bag a few times and dropped it off in the transition tent, on a peg with my race number. The swim to bike transition (T1) was at Chasewater reservoir about 12 miles away, so after a 30 minute drive we arrive at the reservoir. In the car park, I labelled my bike and helmet and packed my blue bag. This bag had my bike shoes, helmet, socks, cycling gloves, towel, race belt, gels, and flapjack. I checked the bag a few times and then racked my bike and put the blue bag on my peg in the transition tent. I got my race chip and then went back to my bike to remember where it was racked in transition ready for the race the following day. I then realised the bike was being left in the elements overnight and it was forecast rain overnight, I did not bring a cover and just used a plastic bag to cover the chain. I walked around transition entrance and exits to familiarize myself ready for the race the following day.
We headed back to Shugborough hall for the race briefing and then headed home to relax. I finished packing and setting up my swim gear (tri suit, goggles, swimming cap, anti-chafing glide, wet suit) and also the white bag which contained my dry clothes for after the race. I then applied my race number tattoos to my arm and leg, it was beginning to very real. It was my older brother’s birthday so Mum cooked a curry in the evening and we all went to bed early.
I got up at 4am! I had a little pre-race nerves and excitement, when the alarm went off followed by an elbow jab in the abdomen by my husband. I headed down to the kitchen for my usual breakfast prior to any race: green tea and porridge (made with water) with blueberries and honey. Examined my kit, put my tri-suit and clothes on and made sure I ‘evacuated’ before I left home (sorry for all non-runner/triathletes). We arrived at Shugborough hall with plenty of time to get the shuttle bus to Chasewater reservior. I bumped into a fellow Edinburgh Triathlete Ian Gillon and we sat together on bus, wondering why we signed up, my race nerves had well and truly commenced! The athletes got priority first buses, so my husband and parents waited for a later bus.
At Chasewater I got to the bike transition and checked my bike, removed the plastic bag over my chain and checked my tire pressures. After two minutes I was done and realised I was just staring at my bike and then race day nausea kicked in. I had a chat to the ladies next to me and left transition to get ready. I had an hour and half to kill before my swim heat, so I went to the start to watch the elite and earlier waves. Sadly I missed watching the elite athletes as I was in the toilet queue but I wanted to make sure I went again before the start. I donned my wetsuit and warmed up. We were unable to warm up in the water as the reservoir is a place of special scientific interest and you can only swim in for the Ironman event. I found my cheer squad (my husband Sam, Mum and Dad) and we all watched earlier heats start whilst I checked out the buoys locations and exit layout.
Swim (1900metres/ 1.2miles) 33 minutes 48 seconds
The swim course is one loop, with just two turns and in a reservoir so no choppy water which I prefer. This year they introduced a rolling swim start. We were divided into our predicted swim time groups and each group commenced a rolling start based on these times with the fastest athletes first. Each athlete’s race started once they crossed the swim timing mat. I was really pleased about this change because it can be really hectic and dangerous with everyone starting at once.
I lined up in my zone group 30-34minutes and put my swimming cap and googles on. I made a massive error when packing my kit, I only packed one pair of googles and they were broken so I had to buy new ones for race day. I bought the exact same googles but I hadn’t swum in them before.
We started on a jetty and after the horn sounded a few seconds later I jumped into the water and started swimming. The water temperature was twenty degrees which is fairly warm (compared to Scottish Lochs!) and the water clarity was good. No strange or funky taste and I could see my arms whilst swimming. The water was calm even with other swimmers around me. I always have a mini panic at the start of any open water swim, usually takes me about five minutes to relax properly and settle into my stroke and breathing pattern. This has improved with the more races I’ve done. I just have to keep telling myself to keep calm and then I’m fine. The rolling start definitely made it better I didn’t have to swim around (or over) other swimmers and settled into the swim much quicker.
My new googles back- fired on me, after ten minutes my googles had steamed up and I had really poor vision. I was swimming beside two swimmers with similar abilities so I used them for direction. The first buoy came quickly and I felt good and comfortable. One of the swimmers besides me went ahead so I latched on to her feet. I was drafting for at least five minutes but after a few mouthfuls of water I decided to go it alone, massive mistake! I couldn’t really see the buoy properly until I came close and kept swimming quite wide. In hindsight I should just stopped for a second and demisted my googles but in race situations you’re not always thinking logically. As I result I kept changing my swim pattern which I think slowed my swim time (as well as the extra distance). I got to the second buoy and knew it was a straight line to the finish and it easier to sight the activity centre by the swim exit. Towards the last 200-300metres I swam around some swimmers in the earlier heats including one man doing backstroke, crazy! Reviewing my Garmin stats after the race I swam an extra 160metres, I really need to work on my sighting and remember to bring all my kit, so annoying!
Swim to Bike transition (T1) 7 minutes 11 seconds
I got out the water no problem, I wasn’t dizzy and my legs felt good. I ran along a long the gravelly tarmac path to the transition tent. Surely they could have put a mat down? I saw Sam and Dad when running along the path to the transition tent, Sam even ran alongside me cheering me on, then I looked at my watch 34minutes I was really gutted. I am a strong swimmer and can easily swim faster than that but it was done now so I focused on getting to the tent. I arrived to the transition tent collected my blue bike bag, wet suit off, helmet on, towel dried my feet, socks, shoes, sunglasses, race belt and gloves on. I remembered my flapjack and put it in my pocket. I put my wetsuit, googles and cap into the blue bag, tied it up and threw it into the drop off point. I took my time in transition as I didn’t want to panic and forget anything. I ran to my bike, picked it up and ran to the out of transition to start cycling.
Bike (91kms /56miles) 3 hours and 7 minutes exactly
The first couple of kilometres started slow due to speedbumps and a gravelly road but after that I got into my stride. The first few kilometres the roads were narrow and twisty. I was in one of the last swim heats so the roads at this point were very congested with other athletes and hard to overtake. After 10 kilometres the roads opened up and I could easily overtake. I felt really good during the bike and pushed hard in the first hour.
The second and third hour consisted of torrential rain. I got cold at one point and this massively affected my nutrition. I find it really hard at the best of time to eat whilst exercising and with being cold as well made it even harder. I was managing to drink and have gels regularly but I pretty much forced myself to eat most of my flapjack. I know I didn’t drink enough as well again down to the cold factor.
The bike course was well supported by locals and beautifully scenic. The volunteers at the feed stations were great, smiling and cheering even in the pouring rain. The rain definitely slowed me down, I was much more cautious around corners and going down hills. I had a toilet stop at the 37 mile feed station, which added about 2.5minutes onto my bike time (now I understand why people wear two piece suits for longer distances). The last 30mins on my bike the rain eased and I got warm again ready for my run.
Bike to run transition 3 minutes 4 seconds
I jumped off my bike, ran with it to the racks, racked my bike and ran to the transition tent. I saw a long queue for the toilet, I was so relieved I went to the toilet during the bike course. I threw my bike gear into the red run gear bag, changed shoes, had a sip of water, tied my bag, passed it to a marshal and ran off. No dramas and a fairly quick transition.
Run (Half marathon 21kms/ 13.1miles) 1 hour 49minutes 5 seconds
I came off the bike feeling pretty pleased with my bike time, out of transition I felt pretty good and the weather improved. In my head all I was thinking this was the last leg, not long now. I wanted to finish the race in one piece and also enjoy it, checked my Garmin and saw I was going a little quick and slowed my pace. My ankle had been playing up again a few days before the race so I continued steady for the first lap and would see what my legs felt like in the other two laps. At the first feed station I saw my parents and Sam cheering me on, just what I needed.
The run course consisted of three laps around Shugborough hall grounds and through two villages, Great Haywood and Little Haywood. The run had mixed terrain of tarmac, trail, mud, gravel and grass which included one big hill, which we had to run up 3 times!! In parts it was really muddy and only one runner could pass so got a little busy in places and slowed my pace. I steadily went past other people, and generally felt pretty good in the first lap. I didn’t take any nutrition or drinks in the first lap.
The support from the spectators on the run was amazing, spectators pretty much the lined whole run. The locals in Great Haywood and Little Haywood were in good spirits and recognised you each lap, which really spurred me on.
Second lap didn’t feel too dissimilar from the last. At mile 6 I had a sip of water, just after the hill. A mile later I started to feel tired. The next feed station I took my own gel and had some water, I walked through the feed station as I haven’t mastered the art of eating a gel, drinking and running at the same time.
The third lap was tough, ‘only 4 miles to go’ I kept telling myself. My legs were starting to get heavy. I decided to take on a sip of water or electrolytes at each feed station. My cheer squad were by the first feed station on the lap, I remember staring at Sam with my tired eyes, feeling awful and he started yelling and cheering, it was just the boost I needed. Strangely after that I felt like I was on a high, smiling and even chatting to other athletes along the way. I think hysteria kicked in,’ I can do this’, and ‘I’m going to make it to the finish’. I was slowly picking off people one by one, no one passed me on my last lap. After I got over the big hill the last time I just let my legs go, and picked up speed. I saw the 12 mile sign and that last mile felt like forever.
I turned towards the finishing chute and sprinted down to finish and crossed the line. I looked up at my time 5 hours 40minutes 8seconds! I was so shocked by my time I had to look back and check it twice! My goal was to finish, enjoy the race and try and get under 6 hours which I did. I collected my medal and was beaming.
5 hours 40mins 8secs 70.3miles
In conclusion it was a great race, apart from the weather (typical Midland’s weather). Overall I was disappointed with my swim, happy with my bike and satisfied with my run. It was my first Ironman and middle distance triathlon and I did it! Prior to the race I read a few negative reviews about last year’s race, this year’s was well organised and I had no issues. I had a great time and would highly recommend Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 to anyone.
Thanks again to my cheer squad Mum, Dad and Sam for helping all weekend and standing in the rain waiting for me!
My next challenge is Aberfeldy middle distance triathlon in August.