The alarm beeped intrusively at 3:28 in our hotel room at the Premier Inn at Malthouse Farm. Billy Winn and I had shared accommodation for Ironman UK last year, and it seemed to work OK – no disturbance for family and dogs who could slumber on ready for their exertions on the side of the road as spectators. I slept really well for a change, probably as a result of an extremely stress free registration on Friday and racking and briefing on Saturday. Maybe I’m getting used to this Ironman lark.

Another positive moment in the build up was, as we were trudging through the early dawn to transition, a voice popped up asking if I was John Sutton. It was a guy called Ben who was a reader of this blog and been asking me about the bike course. I wished him luck saying that Sheep House would hold no fear after his training on Winnats Pass! Arriving in the usual quiet and purposeful transition, I set about getting ready for the race. Cue long queue for a smelly portaloo,

Race time! Conditions in Pennington Flash were benign, the water was warm and I felt positive as I took the plunge. The first lap seemed interminable, but a quick glance at my watch showed that I was on course for a time in the late 1:30s which I would have been satisfied with. Although the second lap seemed quicker, it was actually 5 minutes slower and my resulting time was 1:44:48, down 4? minutes on 2016. The positive I took from this was that I front crawled all the way and because of all the extra swimming I have been doing I felt noticeably fresher going through T1 and gained several minutes here.

Picture courtesy of David Airey

So setting out on the bike I was as near as dammit on an identical time as 2016. The first part of the bike course went well and I hit Colt Alley bang on my predicted time of 9 0’clock. The early birds were already out in force and making an impressive amount of noise. I took it easy over Sheep House and was wary on the descent. The damp and drizzly conditions made for slippy roads and the vision of a wrecked bike and ambulance did nothing for my confidence. As usual, the exposed section over the moors to Brinscall was pretty windy making for tough going. I pressed on around the top of the course and tackled Hunter’s Hill well within myself. A look at my heart rate trace afterwards showed that I kept my heart rate well within limits on both of the tough hills. I started up Babylon Lane for the second time, again pretty much bang on last year’s time, just 2 minutes slower than the first loop at last year’s race. This was slightly disappointing as I had worked hard on the bike and was hoping to be nearer 6:30 than 7 hours. At least the sun had come out, but that also meant that the wind had freshened making the exposed section really tough going. Nevertheless, I pressed on making sure I was keeping on top of my nutrition and going steady up the hills. I felt that I was going faster than last year, but I wasn’t. I rolled into transition in 7:02:50, 4 minutes slower than 2016.

So, with both the swim and the bike being a bit slower, and transition saving me around 3? minutes I set out on the run approximately 5 minutes down on last year, meaning that to beat my course pb I would have to pb the marathon. Given that running was my weakest discipline in training, due to injury, this was going to be a very tall order. And so it proved. Things started well enough. I got through a really tough first mile where things didn’t feel at all good and then settled into a steady run. For the first 15km I averaged around 6 minutes per kilometre which was well on schedule for a decent run time. But as soon as I hit a hill the wheels fell off spectacularly. My legs simply didn’t have it and I walked for a few kilometres until the course pointed downhill to the town centre. Walking out of the town centre up the hill to get my first band I went through the halfway point in 2:23. Here is the point where I lost it. I was feeling overwhelmingly negative about the run, Ironman and life in general. So I kept walking and haemorrhaging until the turn around at the top of the course. When I started to run back down the hill I was still capable of putting in kilometres in the mid 6 minutes, but it was the long walks that were killing my time. Still, through perseverance, supporting other COLTs on the course and receiving countless shouts of support, I kept going. It was especially great to see Kirsty, Luke and Hannah, plus Kev and Rachel shouting me on-the Regensburg 2011 support team were in good voice! The last run through town was tough going but I finally crossed the line in 14:19:33, 25 minutes slower than last year. It turned out that my run time was less than 20 minutes slower than 2016 so if I had been mentally stronger when the going got tough then I’m sure I would have been close to last year’s run time. I think the lack of confidence I had in my run was the key factor. I said to myself, “You knew this was going to happen, so why bother?”

That is 6 Ironman races completed, including Ironman UK 4 times. As you can gather I am slightly disappointed with my time, but there are positives to pick out of the bones: my nutrition plan based on Torq gels and energy bars worked really well, no signs at all of stomach stress; my swim, although slow, was front crawl all the way, a first for me; I went through transition smoothly and efficiently saving a good chunk of time despite a loo stop. The biggest disappointment was the bike. I simply did not expect to be slower than last year. I’m not sure why this was the case and it is something I’ll need to reflect on.

  • Swim: 1:44:48
  • Bike: 7:02:50
  • Run: 5:14:59
  • Transition: 0:16:58
  • Total: 14:19:33

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