Friday, 7 August 2009

Ironman UK 2009 Bolton Race Report

I will write something about the organisation and background to the race another time, for this report I am going to concentrate on the race itself.

The Swim

Walking down to the start of the swim I actually felt quite relaxed. Generally in the lead up to events, or when I played rugby matches, I find I am nervous but once I am close to the start and it is time for action I feel fine. Once in the reservoir bobbing about waiting for the start everything felt great. It was time to see if all the training had worked.

Since I knew I had a long day ahead of me I took things fairly easy on the swim. For the first leg down the course I stayed fairly wide and kept out of trouble. It was a little crowded at the turn but once past I went wide again and pottered along at my own pace. As I past the start line I checked my watch and it was way past the time I was expecting. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the leg a few minutes later that I realised the start was not half way along the course and I figured I was actually about on schedule. The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful and I finally exited the water in 01:33:13 and had my wetsuit unzipped by another Mike, an old rugby mate of mine.

It seemed like a very long run back up to the transition area and getting changed and ready for the bike seemed to take ages. I think this was partly because I was feeling very cold. My record breaking super long wee in the porta-loos and the gloopy mud everywhere didn’t really help my transition time either but were unavoidable. Then I was out on the bike.

The Bike

After the swim I was feeling very cold. Despite the mud I managed to clip into the pedals and off I went. Within a few minutes I was on the first long hill which soon had me warmed up.

As it had worked for me in my recent half-ironman at Weymouth I was planning to eat one PowerBar per hour and drink Nuun. Since I could carry all the fluid I needed the plan was to get plain water from the feed stations and top it up with very concentrated Nuun from a bottle I was carrying. This worked well until partway through the second lap when I lost my Nunn bottle on a ridiculously bumpy section of road. This may have been partly caused by my new (untested) back of the seat bottle carrier. My fault for trying something new in a race but I hadn’t had chance before. For the rest of the bike I drank plain water and that seemed to work fine.

My bike is generally stronger than my swim and I seemed to be passing more people than passed me. What was strange was a small group of us that kept passing each other. We were not working together or anything like but kept seeing each other. It was as if one of us would have a good spell and disappear down the road out of sight. Then a few minutes later it would be someone else’s turn to have a good spell and they would catch up and over take the others again. We even ended up joking about it to each other as we overtook again and again.

My wife and son had dashed back to the hotel after seeing me at the swim start. By pure chance the bike course went right past the front door of the hotel so we had decided that was the best place for viewing that section of the race. I saved my drinks bottle from the feed station before to throw to them as I went past on each lap. Just seeing them each time gave me a real boost.

Despite the one big hill we had to repeat and the terrible road surface in some places the bike was actually pretty good. I managed to pace it reasonably well and tried not to push too hard finishing in 06:35:42. On the last lap my back was starting to feel quite stiff and I was glad to get off the bike but I was in a good mood and feeling strong.

The Run

In T2 I stopped for another attempting at my long peeing record and I think I came quite close. Then as I was sorting myself out in the transition area I had a chat with the father of Matt who I have been doing some training with. He told me Matt was only just ahead of me so off I went.

Just after transition the course did a little double back on itself and there was Matt running back the other way to me. He was just a few minutes ahead and my competitive side was looking forward to having a target to chase.

The first five miles or so of the run were unpleasant, mainly due to the pain in my lower back. Eventually, I had to stop and do some stretches to try and free things up. As he passed, the guy running behind me said he thought for a minute I was showing off by stopping to do some press-ups. At this stage in the race I was not showing off at all. The stretching helped my back and for a couple of miles everything was good, then it just started to hurt.

My wife and son were waiting for me at the entrance to the park and I stopped for a quick chat and posed for some photos. In the shots where I knew they were looking I appear relaxed and strong. In the un-posed ones when I was exiting the park I look far more tired and the pain is visible. With my back working ok the pain was not injury related and I recognised it from the end of my long runs. It was just a really tired, painful, I want to stop now feeling in my legs. Stopping wasn’t an option though so I just kept going, running mostly, walking up some of the hills when I had to.

The lack of mile markers on the run really made it hard mentally, as I had no idea how far I had gone or how far I had left to go. The lack of milestones to target and tick off was tough so I just kept plugging away, feeding and drinking whenever I could. All the encouragement from the residents of Bolton really helped and it was great to see people handing out water at the bottom of their drives in their own, unofficial feed stations.

The family was waiting at the entrance to the park when I got back there and were surprised when I told them I didn’t have another lap to go and I was heading for the finish. They dashed off to get there in time, going considerably faster than I was as I set off around the park again.

Before I know it I was heading down the final straight into the finishing chute and hearing the announcer say “Mike you are an Ironman”. My mate Mike was now doing his finishing line catcher role so it was great to see a friendly face straight away. My marathon time was 04:07:19. Added to my other times and my horribly slow transitions that gave a final finishing time of 12:35:40.

My wife and son managed to make it to the finishing line before me and saw me finish so once Mike put me down I went to them and got a nice hug! I never did see Matt on the run but I must have passed him somewhere as he came in a little while after me and I was there to congratulate him a few seconds after he crossed the line.

The feeling when I crossed the line was wonderful and has been growing every day since as it has really started to sink in. This is something that I would love to do again but I know it is not going to be possible for a while as there are some more important things I need to dedicate some time to. But I know if I have managed to do this I will succeed in the things I have planned for the coming months.

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