In 2014 I did 3 half Ironman races: the Beaver was first (bike is slightly short of the full half-Ironman) in 5:39 on what was a really wet day; second came the Cleveland Steelman which was also extremely wet, but I got around in 5:35. The third was the inaugural Challenge Weymouth which I completed in a disappointing 6:08. That was the slowest half Ironman I’d done since Wimbleball 2008 (and anyone who’s done Wimbleball knows why that race is a lot slower than your average half ironman). In the subsequent two seasons I have done a further 3 half Ironman races, all in times of over 6 hours, meaning that the Cleveland Steelman remains the last sub 6 hour half Ironman triathlon that I’ve done. Since one of my longtime ambitions has been to do a sub 5:30 half, this is a worrying trend and it may be that age is finally catching up with me. Or, maybe, the circumstances surrounding those last 4 half Ironman races has given a warped picture, and I shouldn’t be resigning myself to slowing down too much just yet.
Let’s look at each race.
Challenge Weymouth was my first triathlon with a sea swim and although I coped well with the conditions, the extra fatigue of the swim may have taken an extra toll later in the race (the sea conditions were so tough that the the Iron distance swim was reduced to half distance on the day). Added to that, I broke a spoke on the bike leg and my rear wheel rubbed for the last half hour of the bike which must have slowed me down further. By the time I was halfway through the run I was pooped, and just finishing became quite an achievement. Still, I was a little disappointed with my overall time.
The next half Ironman I did was A Day In The Lakes in June 2015. This race is no ordinary half Ironman: the bike leg rides over the fearsome Kirkstone pass from the Ullswater side and Shap Fell. The hilly bike was made worse by horrible wet weather and was followed up by a full fell half-ironman with almost 2000′ of ascent. I finished in 7:43, limping in for the last 5km with a sore ankle. I was actually pretty pleased with this time as it was only injury that stopped me from hitting my 7:30 target.
3 weeks after this race I was at the Cleveland Steelman for a second time. It wasn’t wet, thankfully, but it was very windy and I was 20 minutes slower on the bike than the previous outing. The extra effort on the bike also cost me a further 10 minutes on the run and I finished in 6:01, nearly half an hour slower than last time. I was disappointed with this result as although I knew that the wind would slow me down I didn’t expect to lose quite so much time.
On to 2016 and the only half I have done this year was Bala which I finished in 6:13. Here I did a very poor swim followed by a decent bike and slow run. I felt good as I set out on the run, but the boiling hot conditions took their toll and I slowed significantly over the last few kilometres. I had previously done this race in 2010 where I had finished in 5:39 and was faster in all 3 elements (the bike was only slightly faster but the run and swim were both much quicker).
So, that’s 4 half Ironman races and 4 very different sets of circumstances. Significantly, all 4 were in tough weather conditions, windy, wet or hot, all of which took a major toll on my performance. In fact, you have to go back to 2013 and Henley when I last did a half Ironman in cool, dry and calm conditions. Significantly, I came?home that day 6th in my age group, my best triathlon result to date. The bike course was by no means flat, and was at least?10km?longer than a normal half, so although my time of 5:51 was nowhere near a pb, it was pretty quick relative to the rest of the field. It has to be said that a tough bike followed by a flat run plays to my relative strengths.
What does this all mean for Ironman 70.3 Weymouth in 2 weeks time? First and foremost, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for calm weather. ?I’ll also make sure that my bike is well fettled to minimise the chances of a mechanical issue.?I remain confident that if the conditions are right I can get close to that elusive 5:30 once again. Maybe not at Weymouth with its added dimension of a sea swim, but certainly next year.