It’s just over a week since I crossed the finish line in Bolton and stopped the clock in 13 hours, 54 minutes and 48 seconds. It was my fifth Ironman and my first Ironman UK since 2010. In terms of time, it was my second fastest Ironman (my pb remains Regensburg in 2011 at 13:36:28), but my fastest IMUK by some 8 minutes. The course has changed somewhat from 2010 with the bike leg chnging from a 3 lap configuration to a 2 lap course. If anything,?I consider the 2 lap course to be harder as it has added 2 extra substantial climbs (Brindle and Hunter’s Hill) so although you only climb Sheep House twice in the 2 loop configuration, overall there is more climbing. The run course, too, has changed and the repeated climb out of Bolton town centre makes for a tougher route than its original configuration. Given that fact, although I was secretly hoping to set a new pb at Bolton, I am quietly satisfied with my performance.
Training and Build Up
The best thing about my preparation for Bolton in 2016 was the consistency. I remained pretty much injury free throughout the spring and cycled the?bike?route a number of times. My running has been the strongest it has been for years with repeated hill runs up to the windmills on Caton Moor making me much more resilient. The stats don’t lie, by the time I hit the start line at Bolton I had done 20% more running than the previous year and 35% more cycling. The training was also at a higher intensity with my Strava suffer scores being much higher on the bike in particular. In the 20 weeks prior to Ironman UK I trained for an average of 7 hrs 37 minutes per week, 34 minutes per week more than in the 20 weeks building up to Ironman Wales in 2015. These figures are low compared to what many Ironman athletes recommend but in 2016 in particular I was pleased with both the consistency and the quality of the training I managed. There weren’t many easy sessions!
The one area which wasn’t so good was my swimming. I had only swum a total of 23km in the build to Ironman UK (including races) and had suffered the worst result in my triathlon history at the Bala half, taking 57 minutes over the distance, much slower than at any previous event. This was a blow to my confidence and despite some regular swim sessions between Bala and race day, this was the one area that I did not feel confident about.
If I wanted to beat my personal best I would need to do a swim of around 1:30, a bike of about 6:45 and a run of around 4:45 while being fairly efficient through transition. The swim was ambitious, the bike realistic, but the run would be a step change in my marathon times. My 4 previous Ironman “runs” had all been over 5:20 so I was looking to knock over half an hour off my previous run best. Actually, I felt more confident in my ability to do this than in my ability to hit 1:30 for the swim!
And so it proved. I was actually reasonably happy with a time of 1:40 for my swim. It was actually quicker than last year’s Ironman Wales, although the difference in conditions with the really tough sea swim at Tenby and the calm, shallow and warm conditions at Pennington Flash could not have been more marked! It did, however, put me on the back foot, with regards to my target, so I set to to make up some time on the bike. The windy conditions however, made for tough riding and I backed off a bit on the second lap to avoid burning out my run. I was satisfied with the time of 6:58 but with transition times added it left me with needing a sub 4:30 marathon to beat my target. This was a stretch too far. My final run time in very hot conditions on a tough course was 4:56, which was a personal best of 27 minutes better than my first Ironman back in 2009. So, I ended up 18 minutes outside my personal best. 5 minutes faster through transition and a 4:40 marathon would have seen me do it, but on a day with tough racing conditions I can’t be anything but satisfied. Ironman Regensburg was a much easier course than Bolton so I think that on a fast course a sub 13:30 Ironman would be a more than realistic target.
My nutrition plan was simple: 1 Etixx gel every half hour on the bike with an Etixx energy bar instead of every 4th gel. In addition I would take a couple of Etixx gels with caffeine and taurine when needed. My drinks were plain water with lemon tea Nuun tablets added. My previous races had been all gels on the bike but left me feeling queasy for the run so I was keen to add something solid. The plan worked well. Many stimulant gels really upset my stomach, but for whatever reason the Etixx ones don’t. So, even if the “cough medicine” flavour of them takes a bit of getting used to, they really work for me. I reached the end of the bike having consumed everything that I set out to, including drinks and started on the run feeling as well as could be expected. I switched, as usual to bananas, water and flat coke with a few salty tortilla chips thrown in. After about 2 hours running I went through my first really bad patch and felt quite nauseous but by laying off the drink a bit (I think I was actually taking on too much liquid) things moved back into equilibrium and I got ?into my running stride once more.
As usual, post race I found food difficult to take. Hot tea and some fruit was all I could manage. The pizza offered by the organisers was altogether too spicy for my delicate stomach so I had to wait for a couple of hours until I could get some soup down me at home. I also took my usual dose of paracetamol and that successfully staved off my post race elevated temperature. A couple of day’s complete rest followed and although I was stiff and tired I did not feel anything like as bad as I usually did post Ironman and one week on I’ve managed a couple of bike rides and a swiftish 10k run!
Ironman performance is all about resilience deep into the race and Ironman UK was the first time I managed to keep the run going right until the finish line. At Regensburg I set a really fast bike time of 6:15 but completely failed to back it up as I fell apart on the run. It has taken 5 Ironman races to achieve this, but at last I have a good feel for what it takes to put together an Ironman and will try and put these lessons together next time out. Where that will be, I’m not sure yet.