When imagining a traditional seaside resort it is hard to think of a more quintessentially English one than Weymouth. With its beautiful Esplanade full of hotels and guest houses; Punch and Judy; proper caf?s and ice cream parlours (Rossi’s was founded in 1937 and, judging by the queues, is still going strong) it’s easy to see why tourists of a certain age book the same week in the same Fawlty Towers year after year. Given all this gentility and predictable calendar of events that marks the slow progress of the season in sleepy resorts like Weymouth it seems slightly odd that such a stridently international organisation as the World Triathlon Corporation (the clue is in the title) should choose Weymouth as its venue for its newest UK Ironman and Ironman 70.3 event.
In fact, despite the proximity of Ironman Wales it makes perfect sense. Weymouth has been trying to diversify and its bay was chosen as the venue for the London 2012 Olympic sailing regatta. Trying to capitalise on that sporting connection Just Racing, an experienced triathlon organiser, rocked up with Challenge Weymouth and the Weymouth Half after its race at Henley (an excellent event in itself) had been kyboshed by nimbies. Both Henley and Weymouth were iron distance events run under the Challenge Triathlon franchise with a Just Racing Half Ironman tagged on. I raced at Weymouth Half two years ago and had a tough day, mainly due to the fact that the race was my first sea swim tri and the weather was somewhat challenging (race report). Having said that, the event itself was superbly organised by Alan Rose and his team and I thoroughly enjoyed myself (ridiculously bad sea front hotel notwithstanding: hats off to the Premier Guest House. I have no idea how I gave this English “gem”?two stars on Tripadvisor). So when it came to looking for a race to round my season off I was bound to give this one consideration. In fact, I briefly flirted with the notion of a full Ironman, but a few bike rides showed me that although I felt fit, strong and healthy, I definitely didn’t fancy six hours in the saddle. So Ironman Weymouth 70.3 it was, aided by the fact that fellow Colt, Billy Winn also fancied this race and we could share the not inconsiderable travel. We just wouldn’t be staying at the Premier.
The Build Up
After Ironman UK I fairly quickly got back into the swing of training. Unfortunately I got somewhat distracted by a Strava hillclimbing challenge running throughout August. I actually managed 162km of running in a month which included over 4800m of climbing. So, I was going to be strong and resilient on the run, but given that the run course at Weymouth is as flat as it gets, I could hardly claim that my training was terribly specific. All those hours running up and down hills meant less time for cycling, though and I only manager one race distance ride throughout August. As usual, my swim prep was all pretty last minute but, all in all, I put in a solid month in August and knew I had more than enough in the tank to get round. Would it translate to the sub 6 hour time I wanted?
Weymouth is the best part of 300 miles from Lancaster so it was a long trip down with Billy’s caravan on Friday afternoon – over 7 hours in the end with traffic jams on the M6 holding us up. We were staying at the Haven caravan park at Littlesea which has an excellent touring area with superb toilet and shower facilities. It was just over 2 miles from Weymouth town centre and proved to be an excellent choice (you could try booking one of their cabins if you don’t have a caravan or camper).
The first thing to note about the venue is that registration and transition are at opposite ends of Weymouth so it’s a good idea to plan things carefully or you can end up walking a lot more than you would want to on the day before a big race. There is some parking down at registration but there were queues at times waiting for a space. It’s probably less than a mile from the main event carpark at the Swannery to registration and there was also adequate parking at transition. So with a little forethought and giving yourself plenty of time you shouldn’t need to walk around too much. The weather on the Saturday was dreadful; heavy coastal drizzle all morning and into the afternoon meant that we abandoned any thought of going for a swim on Weymouth beach an retreated to a tea shop for lunch while we waited for the rain to stop prior to racking bikes and dropping off red and blue bags. The sun came out at three and so did the triathletes which led to the longest queue for getting in to transition that I’ve ever seen. Luckily, it was processed pretty quickly and after working out our routes through, transition landmarks etc, Billy and I headed off back to Littlesea to relax before the race.
When I last raced the Weymouth Half back in 2014 I remember walking along Weymouth Esplanade in the pre dawn light looking at the waves crashing on to the beach with a rising sense of foreboding. This was going to be a tough introduction to the art of the triathlon sea swim. Today, however, the contrast could not have been more complete. The sky was clear, there was barely a breath of wind and the sea was as smooth as cloths on the snooker tables at The Crucible. Big queues for the loos meant that we only just got to the start funnel a few moments before the off. However, with over 2500 folk racing in both the Ironman and 70.3 races starting together in the new Ironman rolling start system it was a full 15 minutes before I actually got in the water.
Anybody who has read my blog will know of the problems I’ve had with swimming, and this year my confidence had taken a battering. Bala had been a real low point: 57 minutes for a 1.9km swim was desperately slow. A concerted effort in the pool improved things to 1:40 at Ironman UK, but a tough swim at Weymouth had all the potential for putting me out of the race before I got going.
The water was warm and clear and there was barely a ripple to trouble my breathing. The self seeding rolling starts also work well meaning that you have space straightaway to swim at your own pace without too many kicks, slaps and punches in the notorious triathlon washing machine. Before long I was passing the first buoy feeling about as relaxed as I ever had on a half ironman swim, let alone a sea swim. At the first turn I couldn’t see the second turn point but sighting on the tall Jurassic Skyline tower at the end of the Pavilion worked well and the I soon spotted the second turn. From their it was easy to sight on the yellow exit arch on the beach. I was still happily front crawling at this point and as I turned for home I felt, for the first time in 47 triathlons, that I could make it all the way without a single breaststroke.
I exited the water and was through the arch in 45 minutes. Not fast by the standards of most triathletes, but 3 minutes faster than my average for the distance and a full 12 minutes faster than July. I practically skipped into T1.
If there is one race to leave your shoes clipped into your pedals then Weymouth is the one. It’s quite a long run from the transition to tent to your bike so there is a good opportunity to make up some time here. Trouble was, I hadn’t planned on this in advance and practiced getting on the bike barefoot. So, although I ran quickly to my bike, any time I made up was lost by completing fluffing the mount and getting my shoes sorted. With further faff trying to get the Strava app going on my watch led to a slow first kilometre. After this slightly inauspicious start to my strongest leg I set to on the gentle climb out of Weymouth and on to the open roads.
The Weymouth bike course is superb. It is mostly on smooth wide roads and although there is plenty of climbing, it is all on gentle inclines (one short hill approaches 10% at its steepest). There are some fantastic fast and straight descents too. On one descent I hit 78kph before I had to stop spinning out my gears. On the same stretch, Billy, who had a slightly longer top gear than me hit 84kph! If ever there was a course for the 53×11 top gear, it’s this one. There are a couple of quite sharp turns to look out for and one turn on to a country lane fairly late on was quite gravelly. The only part of the course that I felt needs looking at was a short 2 way section down a fairly narrow B road. Because this was fairly early in the ride there were lots of athletes crowded together with a similar large number returning in the opposite direction after the dead turn. To make matters worse, the first feed was here and the ride was full of riders swerving across to grab nutrition while others wanted to press on. This was unnecessarily dangerous and hopefully will be ironed out next year.
As the route turned southwards towards Weymouth once more we also turned in to a headwind. Luckily it was fairly slight and because most of the climbing was out of the way it was largely downhill. I rolled back into transition after 92km in 3:06 at an average speed of 29.8kph and just over 900m of climbing. I was slightly disappointed with my time as I felt it was a course where as sub 3 hour split is more than possible. I’m not sure where I lost the time because I felt as though I was pushing on throughout. Looking at the times, I was in the mid 40s out of 100 in my age group. Not bad, but on a good day I’m usually top third on the bike, indeed, a sub 3 hour split would have put me into the top 30.
There was now just the run to go. In order to go sub 6 hours I need to put in a decent sub 2 hour run. I started off with a quick wee stop, but then headed off at speed. Shortly after the first turn as came past transition I saw Billy heading in from the bike. He had beaten me by about 4 minutes on the swim but I passed him quite quickly on the bike. Clearly I hadn’t pushed on enough because he was less than 10 minutes behind me. Billy is a strong runner and if I ever needed a spur to run hard, seeing Billy was just what I needed as I didn’t want him to catch me.
As the day wore on it had got distinctly hotter, but I was feeling strong and notched up the first 6km at sub 5:15 minutes per km pace. So far so good. I made sure I was getting coke, water and bananas at the feeds and for the next few kilometres I slowed a touch to 5:20 pace. Thereafter, I was in the 5:30s and 5:40s and although I stopped my watch at 1:57, my toilet stop had taken me fractionally over the two hour mark, 2:00:20 being my official time for the run. I don’t think I could have gone any faster.
As I crossed the line I looked up at the Ironman arch and saw my time listed as 6:03:50. I’d missed 6 hours yet again. This was good enough for 42nd in my age group out of 100 starters. I couldn’t complain though, the conditions were perfect and I raced as hard as I could. I think I messed up in transition mostly: my exit from the bike definitely cost me time and fiddling with my watch got me off to a slow start. My overall transition tine of 11:47 didn’t include my floundering on the bike start or my loo stop, so my overall time lost was probably approaching 15 minutes. This is way slower than my usual performance at half ironman. The bagged transitions, seating etc that you get at an Ironman event tends to make you take a more leisurely route through, whereas I usually use transition as an opportunity to make up for my slow swim, Not today: practice needed.
Impressions of the race
Ironman 70.3 Weymouth (and by extension, Ironman Weymouth) is an excellent race. The town, with its sheltered bay and long Esplanade provides a great swim course (when conditions are benign) and a flat and fast run course. there were plenty of spectators for the run providing vocal support. The rolling lanes an hills provide possible my favourite triathlon bike course I’ve ever ridden, much better than the previous Challenge Weymouth clockwise course. It’s a pleasure to ride on roads that are actually smooth! What a contrast to the lanes of Lancashire. Just Racing have lots of experience in running triathlons and the whole event seemed to proceed without a hitch.
Even Better If
I don’t think there is much tweaking needed to turn this into a really top event, but my EBIs are:
- Either provide a parking voucher for the Swannery carpark on raceday or make it really clear in the race book that you should take cash for the car park. We had trouble with both the app and trying to pay by credit card on the day, eventually keeping fingers crossed that we wouldn’t get a ticket (we didn’t). It was a small stress that we didn’t need;
- Carpet the shingle in the start funnel. It was really sharp and really painful barefoot and slowed progress to the rolling start;
- Move the position of the first feed away from the two way section. Or better still, get rid of the two way section altogether;
- Improve the post race food: pizza is not to everyone’s taste after a triathlon, it’s definitely not mine. I had some lovely veg soup at IM Wales last year and that was perfect for me.