17 July 2017 2 Comments

Worse than I hoped, better than I feared

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 4½ 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 3½ 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


2 Responses to “Worse than I hoped, better than I feared”

  1. Ben Marsh 18 July 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi John,
    It was good to meet you on Sunday to put a face to the name, and to help take my mind off what was about to happen and settle my nerves a bit, even if just temporarily!
    Just wanted to say thanks again for your advice and for the blog which I continue to enjoy, including this post. You asked me to let you know how I got on, so here goes…
    I felt reasonably confident in the build up, I had done plenty of training – enough in each discipline to be confident of the distance, the unknown being how stringing all 3 together would go. On paper I figured I was capable of about 12.5 hours, but was secretly (naively?!) hoping that sub-12 was possible.
    I struggled to get settled on the swim, the lack of space and constant clashing with other swimmers meant I was a bit panicky and breathing too hard so I swam backstroke all the way to the first turn! A bit unorthodox but it helped me to regain some composure and after that I settled into my front crawl and felt much better, finishing in 1:16 – my estimate was 1:15 to 1:20 so not bad.
    Out onto the bike and I realised I had forgotten to put my Garmin on when putting food/bottles on earlier, and so I had no idea of pace or distance other than the occasional markers or asking other riders. This was ok for the most part but towards the end I was tiring and without knowing how much more there was to go I was doubting myself a bit. I chatted to a few people on the course which helped break up the ride a bit, and you were right about the hills – not too bad, but still testing enough on the 2nd lap when fatigue is starting to kick in. 7 hours exactly on the bike was a time I was happy with too, but mostly I was just relieved to get off the thing – generally aching from being hunched over for so long, especially my lower back.
    Because of that the start of the run felt good, a chance to stretch out was a welcome change. I walked the big hill through the housing estate just after transition so I didn’t tire myself out, something which I would repeat on the hill out of the town centre on each lap too. The first 8 miles were good, I was running at my usual long run pace of just under 8 minutes/mile, but after that point I started to struggle – I basically ran out of energy. I had eaten steadily all day, good breakfast, snack 1 hour before swim, banana in T1 and then solid food every 10 miles plus my bottles had liquid carbs mixed in, and then gels every 30 minutes on the run – but it wasn’t enough! I was basically only able to get to the next feed station each time before being completely spent, and I was taking on water, isotonic, coke, banana and tortillas as well as my own gels at each one! This allowed me to continue but at a much slower pace with walking when I was really struggling too. In the end the marathon was 4:16, which gave me a total time of 12:50 – which I was very happy with.
    I did see you out on the run course at one point and gave a shout but I think you were deep in the zone!
    Anyway I would say see you next year but for me that’s unlikely – I’m due to become a dad on 28th October and so my priorities will have to change somewhat. I never say never, but for the near future at least that’s my Ironman journey complete.
    Once again thanks for your blog and the advice, and I look forward to reading it for the forseeable!


  2. john sutton 18 July 2017 at 9:10 pm #

    Fantastic time! Congratulations, Ben. It was really great to bump in to you at 5 in the morning! It sounds like your race went pretty much according to plan, although backstroke is a touch unusual! I did my first Ironman when my youngest was 1 so anything is possible! And I have to say Ironman has nothing on the patience, strength and stamina required for parenting. Best of luck with the future and don’t forget to post a comment once the great event has happened! Ironman and parenthood in one year: 2017 will certainly be memorable!


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