I did it! In my first post I blithely stated that it should take me around 6 hours to complete the 70.3 Ironman at Wimbleball. In actual fact, it took about 7:30! The reason for this? The bike course: 56 miles, 52 hills, 4 of which were evil monsters.
My swim went pretty much as I expected, took it steady and came out of the water on 46 minutes. A bit slower than hoped for, but I had a lot of problems with my goggles. The start itself was great fun, being the first beach start that I’d done – a neoprene cavalry charge into the water followed by a whirling melee of arms and legs. The exit from the swim was particularly pleasant: a 400m run up a steep (and I mean steep) grass bank. It set the tone for things to come.
Living on the edge of the Peak District, I always include hills in my bike training, and believe me, there are some pretty tasty ones within a few miles of my house. So much so, that David Millar, the pro cyclist from Saunier Duval lives here too and I often see him on his bike heading for the hills. However, as I lengthened my mileage in training, I subconciously put fewer and fewer hills into my routes – preferring to head out onto the Cheshire plain. I paid for this weakness in spades.
The bike leg of the race started with a big uphill section which I covered fairly comfortably. There followed a long undulating section and a thrilling downhill to the bottom of the course. At a left turn in the village of Morebath the route kicked viciously upwards. First, with a nasty hill of about 15%, followed by several small uphills before an absolute monster – another big 15%er, with a central pitch that was possibly even steeper. It was on this that I was overtaken by Chris McCormack and a host of other pros on their second lap! (they did start about 20 minutes earlier on the swim, though). There were people walking up this hill on the first lap. After a short descent, the course continued relentlessly uphill for the remainder of the first lap.
The second lap was carnage. By the second of the big hills, the majority of people left out on the course were walking, and for the first time, I joined them, as walkers were going as fast as me on my bike! From the top to the finish of the bike I remained in the saddle – and my wife told me afterwards that I looked good as I passed her with 5 miles to go – my sessions practising the Lance Armstrong mask while inwardly suffering like a dog had obviously paid off! My bike leg ended up being exactly 4 hours long, some 45 minutes longer than I had anticipated. As I ran into transition I passed my bike to a marshal giving him full permission to sell it and I never wanted to see it again. So much for my favourite discipline of the three.
The problem now facing me was a half-marathon (a distance which I had never done in training – due to fear of injury) after having put much more in to the bike ride than I could have possibly imagined. Predictably, the course was undulating, and included a nasty uphill and very steep descent. I was beginning to appreciate that Ironman finisher t-shirts weren’t handed out lightly! Inevitably the run descended into a painful shuffle, although I fought long and hard not to walk any sections. I succumbed to the inevitable as I walked up the steep hill at the start of the second lap. Thereafter, every time the course pointed upwards, I walked. My mood was lightened briefly as I started the last lap. A number of the pros (who by this time had finished over 2 hours ago were on the sides cheering the poor strugglers along. I exchanged high 5s with Macca as I shuffled past knowing that at least at the end of this lap, I would be taking the finish tape.
My finishing time? 7 hours 31 minutes 51 seconds, a full hour slower than I had hoped for. I finished 699 out of 802 people who actually finished, but I have no idea how many dropped out, or were outside the 9 hour cut-off.
A massive thankyou is due to Kirsty who kept me sane and organised throughout the build-up to the event – she is an irreplaceable “team manager”. I’d also like to thank Steve Pallett (race number 311) who was staying at the same hotel as me, and who scouted the course with me and talked tri-tactics all weekend (he finished in an awesome 6:15)
Am I going to go for the full Ironman? – the jury is out. I feel sufficiently encouraged to have another go at half-ironman as I think with the fitness gained and the experience I have, I can get a lot closer to 6:30 than on this course.
My tip to anyone wishing to do Wimbleball 2007: dream up the hardest hill course you can think of to train on, then make it harder.