*** many thanks to Lucy Woollacott for this race report ***
Sorry this report is too long, I got a bit carried away. Ironman is a very long journey!
I signed up for Ironman UK in July 2014 the day after I completed my first ever triathlon. I guess I got a bit carried away as at that stage I had very little idea of the commitment involved. I just knew I wanted to say I was an 'Ironman'! The marketing clearly worked on me. I picked the UK because I am always in the UK in July so it worked logistically. I knew nothing about the course (if I had I surely wouldn't have chosen it!)
The build up
I left Dubai at the end of June as soon as the schools finished and took the kids back to my parents place in the UK. I was desperate to escape the heat and couldn't wait to stop getting up at 3am to train. I was over it. I felt I had trained hard but knew I hadn't really done enough long bike rides - I maxed at 120k a few times but did get to spend a week training in the Alps which definitely helped. I was extremely worried about the hilly bike course which apparently is 'a complete test for the technical cyclist'. Given I only bought a bike a last year and have cycled almost exclusively on the Dubai bike tracks to say I am lacking in bike skills is a serious understatement.
I had visions of spending the almost 3 weeks before the Ironman doing some great last minute training and then enjoying a good taper. In reality I seemed to spend an awful lot of time catching up with friends for dinners and drinks! I had left Dubai feeling in the best shape ever and as the race got closer and closer I felt like I was less and less fit and getting fatter and fatter! (I was well tapered!) I was also terrified of cycling on the roads so ended up doing about 3 short rides in the last 3 weeks.
I did go up to Bolton 2 weeks before the race to cycle a loop of the course. Whilst this was very valuable it didn't help my mental state at all. The course is very tough with a couple of nasty hills, poor road surfaces, and so many twists and turns that it was impossible to get into a rhythm. I realised that this was not a course suited to me at all and decided the race was all about completion. I just prayed it wasn't going to rain as I had never cycled in the rain at all and was sure I would crash at the first corner if the roads were slippy.
So all in all I have never felt as apprehensive as I did about this race. I was obsessed with the Bolton weather forecast and when on the Friday it said heavy rain all day on the Sunday I began to feel genuinely alarmed and near to tears!
I woke at 3am on race day and looked out the window. No rain - excellent maybe the weather forecast was wrong. I went to breakfast and ate 3 wheatabix, a banana and a muesli bar. Returned to my room and looked out the window - the rain had arrived.
We headed to Pennington Flash and I prepared the bike in the pouring rain. Everything was soaked, muddy and slippy. Typical English summer weather so I can't really complain - what had I expected?!
The swim - 59 mins 19 seconds
It was the first year they introduced a rolling swim start which I liked the sound of. As a strong swimmer I tried to get up near the front at the start. I started a little after the sub one hour group. In hindsight I should have got further forward as everyone clearly exaggerated their swimming prowess!
As the National anthem was played and the Pro's went off I began to feel excited and determined to do my absolute best and try and enjoy the day.
The swim went well. I can't say the water was terribly clear but it wasn't cold and it was fairly uneventful. I ended up overtaking a lot of people on the first loop and managed to get on some toes. On the second loop I initially found myself on my own which wasn't ideal but then I started lapping an awful lot of people so this made it pass quickly.
Towards the end of the swim I noticed the rain had started pouring down and was battering my head! I couldn't wait for the bike.
T1 - 6 mins something
The support in T1 was awesome, coming out near the front and ahead of some pro's everyone seemed to think I must be a great athlete which was a nice feeling if somewhat brief!
I had decided to do a partial change in T1 in these conditions. It was cold as well as wet so I put on a cycling top, wind gilet and arm warmers. I also put an extra pair of cycling shorts on for comfort over 180k. As I left T1 the rain was coming down so hard I briefly contemplated staying there for a few minutes - it was so unappealing to get out on the bike.
The bike - 6 hours 41 mins
The problem I have as a strong swimmer and a weaker cyclist is that I spend nearly all the bike course being overtaken by everyone imaginable! This really was a bit depressing in this race. I do remember thinking that only about 5 of these were women but I must have been overtaken by hundreds of very fast men!
For the first hour the rain was torrential and it was like cycling in a river in places. I was very cautious. I saw someone crash after leaving T1 and I lost both my drink bottles with electrolytes in going over a speed bump so I tried to concentrate on just staying on the bike rather than speed.
The rain then stopped and it didn't come back again all day which was a relief. However, then the wind picked up and this also made it very tough.
I didn't seem to have the right gears on my bike for the hills as I was clearly grinding up the hills far too much as everyone else spun past me. I don't have a power meter and my heart rate monitor packed up half way through (to be honest I had largely been ignoring it anyway!) so I was a bit clueless.
My bike handling is so bad that I had to stop at each aid station and put new bottles on the bike as I couldn't manage to collect the bottles with my left hand.
So much to work on but I was pleased with the way I just kept going and managed to stay mentally positive. Towards the end I got cramp in my left quad which has never happened before and my left knee was also really hurting.
The support in certain sections was awesome but there were also a lot of long stretches with no one in sight.
I couldn't wait to get off the bike!
T2 - 6 mins something
I was very happy in T2 as the worst bit was over in my eyes. I had made it and seemed to have temporarily forgotten I had a marathon to run.
There was a lovely lady who helped me with my stuff and I took some ibruprofen for my knee. It took me a while to get out of all the cycle gear I had on and put my Tri top on. Toilet stop and then I stumbled on my way.
The run - 3 hours 58 mins
I set off running with no idea how it would go. I knew I had put far too much effort into the hills on the bike and wasn't sure if I had anything in my legs at all.
However, as usually seems to be the case for me I got into my running and I felt pretty good up to 25k. Then I hit a bit of a wall and turned to the coke. I was cramping up badly in my calves so I ate some pretzels and hobbled along. The course was basically 3 loops - uphill and into the wind one way and then downhill and downwind the other way.
I got into a good rhythm on the downhills and managed to keep a good pace for half the course! The uphills were a different matter and on the last 15k it turned into a bit of a run/walk but I managed to keep to a good pace overall. My body was falling apart towards the end, I was cramping everywhere and had severe knee pain.
As I got towards the finish I began to feel relief and excitement that I would make it and that I was going to be sub 12 hours. Crossing the line to 'Lucy - You are an Ironman' was pretty awesome but I mainly felt relief that the pain would stop. I was pleased to run a sub 4 hour marathon on my first Ironman after a very tough bike.
I found out at the prize giving the next day that I was 2nd in age group and had got the Kona slot. I knew in advance that I would not accept the slot even if by some miracle I got it. The timing just doesn't work for me this year. However, actually turning it down did feel a bit strange as I do really want to go to Kona one day! I had just assumed it would be one day in the distant future.
However, the third place finisher was thrilled and gave me a hug before going up to collect her slot which made me feel better! Hopefully I will get another chance to go to Kona one day.
Key lessons from this event:
1. Prepare for all weather conditions.
2. Start very near the front of the swim, everyone overestimates their swim ability.
3. I need more salt - losing my 2 bottles of very strong electrolytes on the bike was a problem and I needed salt tabs.
4. Mars bars are much tastier than muesli bars on the bike. They were much easier to get down.
5. Get the gearing set up properly. They advised having a compact - I am not sure why I ignored this.
6. Improve my bike handling - it was a bit embarrassing to have to stop at all the aid stations and my poor bike handling cost me a lot of time on this course.
7. Believe in myself. I was riddled with doubt going into this and that was a waste of energy.
No more full distance Ironman for me for a while. I found the training very demanding especially in the Dubai summer and I felt it took over family life a bit too much while the kids are little. I am going back to focus on 70.3 for a while, next stop Bahrain. Kona will have to wait, I just hope I can qualify again one day.