Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire was my first Ironman event. Before this I had only ever done one proper triathlon, that was a sprint, so this is going to be a bit of a jump but a jump I have trained for and feel comfortable with. I signed up for this event as a warm up for Ironman UK and to bridge the gap between sprint and full Ironman distance.
I was going into Staffs with little expectations really, having not done anything like this distance before I did not know what sort of times I would do and how my body would cope. I had swam the 1.9km before and cycled well over 90km and ran many half marathons in the past but never back to back.
I always like to go into an event with a very clear picture of the processes involved, where to go, when to get there and how it all works. With Ironman this felt very alien and different to just rocking up to a start line an hour before a run. I was a little out of my comfort zone, but that is a good thing. I like to push and challenge myself with new things. This is new and exciting.
Saturday – Registration & Racking.
I was not staying over in Stafford for this one. The plan was to drive up Saturday morning, register, pickup my race pack and get my stuff setup at T1 and T2. I left home at 7:30am, it was only a 30 minute drive to the car park. The Ironman documentation advised to park at Doxey Road in the road centre on race day as the shuttle buses will be departing from there. I thought it was a good idea to park there on the Saturday as a dry run. Part of getting that clear picture and removing the stress out of race day. What the Ironman documentation didn’t tell you was where the registration actually was. I had figured out myself that it would be near to T2 but hadn’t factored in that it was a 30 minute walk to get there.
I left my bike and bike gear in the car, took my run gear with me so I could bag this up and drop off after registering.
On the way to registration I bumped into an Italian guy called Matteo Ruzza, he was also lost trying to find registration. I had spent four years at university in Stafford so I know my way around the town centre pretty well so I offered to walk him there. We had a great chat on the way, he was also taking part in his first Ironman 70.3 event and had the same goal as me, to firstly finish and hopefully under 6 hours.
Once at registration, it was a breeze, hardly anyone there at 8am. I am a British Triathlon member so did not need to buy a race day license, but at that time there was no queue for this either. When I went back in 30 mins later there was a queue of around 50 people.
After getting my athlete ID wrist band and race pack which consisted of a Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire backpack, race number stickers, swim cap and race number, I went to the race briefing tent. This was just a video on repeat and to be honest, it felt like a waste of time. Everything that was covered in the video was in the athlete guide. I used this time to put my stickers onto my blue, red and white bags and packed all my run gear into my red bag.
T2 was just across the road, I went over and dropped my run bag off in the tent and checked out the bike racking. A good bit of advice I received during the GoTri event I did 10 months ago, was to spend 5 or 10 mins looking around each transition area. Take your time to see where you will enter, where the mount / dismount lines are, the route you will come in and go out of transition. This takes the confusion out of it when racing in at speed.
Once I had finished at T2 I drove down to Chasewater to rack my bike and drop off my run kit. Again taking the time to look at the bike exit and the swim start / finish. I had come down to Chasewater a few weeks ago to have a look around so I had a good idea of where everything was here. Again, I bumped into my new friend Matteo just as I was pushing the bike in so we had another chat. That was it for me then, everything was sorted and set up ready for race day.
I arrived back at home just before 2pm giving my enough time to relax and watch F1 qualifying before I drove into Manchester to go see the Taylor Swift concert. Not the ideal pre-Ironman night 99.99% of the training plans would have on. I finally went to bed at 00:45 Sunday morning with my alarm set for 03:50.
Sunday – Race Day.
So here we go, its race day. The alarm went off at 03:50, 3hrs and 5 minutes of sleep before taking 70.3 miles. Nothing like going into it well rested. I left home at 04:20 after a bowl of porridge and a coffee, plus a second coffee for the drive. I got into Stafford at 04:50, parked up and was luckily enough to walk straight onto the shuttle bus and was at Chasewater by 05:30, the smoothest journey I could have wished for.
Once at Chasewater, I spent 10 mins loading my drinks bottles and nutrition onto the bike, double checked tyre pressures and dried off the seat & bars. Here I discovered my first mistake of the day. I had pre-loaded the bike route onto my Garmin Edge but hadn’t actually opened it up to check. Yep you guessed it, the route wasn’t there. Not a major issue or even an issue at all really, the route will be signed and other riders ahead to follow. I just like to have the route up front as it gives you the profile of the next 5 miles ahead, a little warning when a hill is upcoming is always nice.
After I was done with the bike, I was just milling around the swim start, I still had an hour and twenty minutes before the swim went off. It would only take 5 mins to change into my wetsuit and drop off the white bag.
Shortly after taking this photo of the lake, the mist rolled in resulting in a delay to the start. We didn’t get the go ahead until 8am and would be starting the swim 10 mins later. I had used the extra time to get changed and chat to some other people about long swims. I quite often find that my legs feel like jelly when I stand up after swimming for 40+ minutes. A few guys said they used to have that same issue and found that kicking harder and faster during the last couple of minutes really helped to get the blood back into your legs. I thought this sounded sensible so I was going to try that out today.
Swim – 00:41.43
I lined up towards the back of the 40 – 50 minute area for the swim start. My fastest 1.9km swim was around 44 minutes. I wasn’t really nervous about this event, even as we were moving closer to the pontoon I still felt pretty calm, thats the feeling I get now when I run a 10k or half marathon, its just another event. A little odd really given I hadn’t even done anything like this before.
Once in the water I found my stride / stroke pretty quickly, got settled into a good routine and found a bit of space to swim into. The rolling start certainly helped to thin the numbers out a little. Around 300m in, just before the first turn I was feeling crowded and had been bumped a few times. This put me off my stroke a little, it took me about 5 minutes to calm down again and get back to my own little routine. I decided to move out wide away from the main bulk of swimmers. This would mean swimming further but hopefully having my own space would allow me to pace it better.
It was a long drag to the second buoy, I knew I was zig zagging a bit but going fairly quickly for me. At the second turn, I turned into the pack and swam through them all taking a racing line to make a narrow turn and line up for buoy 3. I got punched and kicked a lot but I made sure I gave out just as good as I got to ensure I held my line. Someone did hit my left achilles which came keen and ached a lot later on during the run.
After buoy 3 we turned for home, I went out wide again. My pace was a bit up and down at this stage with tiring out. I started to go through transition 1 in my head. The run from the swim exit to T1, where my bag was, what to take off and put back on and the order of it all and remembering to kick hard for the last section.
When I came out of the water, my legs did feel a lot better than previous swims, that little trick I was told seemed to have worked. I will try it out further during training but looks good. My swim was done and around 3 minutes quicker than I have ever swam a 1.9km before.
On my way out of the water I took of my goggles and hat and tried to unzip my wetsuit. The zip wasn’t budging despite multiple attempts to pull it down during the 0.4 mile run to T1, even in the changing tent I couldn’t get it open. The guy next to me saw me struggling and offered to help me out which I thought was so kind of him, he gave up some time during his race to help out a fellow triathlete. He managed to get it unzipped eventually, I had lost around 6 minutes at this stage. Quickly put my helmet, glasses, race belt and cycle shoes on and grabbed the bike. T1 took me over 11 minutes. For me, I wasn’t that disappointed with that, it is what it is and faults do happen with your gear. It is a process I will have to work on for next time.
Bike – 02:53.28
Once on the bike I was happy, this is where I feel my most comfortable, my home discipline. No sooner had I started, we were stopped 400m down the road by the marshals. There had been a crash and we had to wait while the ambulance could get in. A little off putting as you are heading out for a 56 mile ride. We were held there for just under 5 minutes. Once on the road again I hit my 20mph pace which I had planned to try and hold for as much of the ride as possible. Certainly up to mile 35 where the route turned through Cannock Chase where there is a 6 mile uphill section. I found the ride quite easy going, easily holding the 20mph, infact riding around 21 – 22mph for the majority. Having lost a lot of time in transition, a slowish swim and being held at the start of the ride, there were a lot of people in front of me. I found right from the get go that I was passing people left, right & centre. Before today I had been worried that I wouldn’t have been quick enough or a proper triathlete. At this point I was feel good, the swim had gone better than expected and the ride also better than expected.
My plan to have a bite of my nutrition every 20 minutes went well, I had plenty of energy throughout the ride. My two bottles of water with High 5 Zero tabs in lasted well, it was cloudy for the majority of the ride which helped that, but when the sun came out for the last hour it sure warmed up. I didn’t bother with any of the fuel stations on the bike, I had everything I needed with me.
When it came to the big climb at mile 35, I was up that in 21 mins, again going past so many people on the hills. The road bike was a beast on the climbs, leaving people for dead, pulling away so far that even the guys on the TT bikes weren’t catching back up on the downhills. After that climb it was a straightforward ride into Stafford.
Run – 01:45.45
Transition into the run went so much better than swim to bike. I dropped the bike off, took off my helmet and cycle shoes, swapped into my running shoes and cap and off I went, making a quick toilet stop on the way out.
The plan for the run was to see what pace I can hold after a hard bike session. I had done brick sessions in training but not at race pace, so I was going to go for 7:30 pace (35 secs off my PB pace). One thing I have always found when running off the bike is, my legs are numb to the pain so I go off too quickly. Today was no exception, mile 1 was a 6:57, off way too fast. It was warm, sunny and very humid by this time, running at midday was going to be tough anyway before I throw in a crazy first mile. From mile 2 onwards we were running around Stafford town centre on 4 mile laps. At the end of each lap you are given a wrist band to show which lap you are on. Mile 2 was bang on target pace but I was feel so hot and sweaty. At each fuel station I stopped to have a cup of water and pour a second down my back. This slowed my pace down but meant I could still comfortably run in between the stops.
Miles 3 – 10 were generally between 8:00 – 8:30 miles, not what I was hoping for but the weather made it difficult to run quicker. Mile 11 I had to stop and stand in the shade, I was feeling a bit dizzy, I got going and made it to mile 12, again having to stop but this time I had to sit down under a tree and tip water on my head. I felt hot, dizzy and sick. As there was only 0.7 mile to go I got up and trotted off but had a feeling that although it felt like I was running straight and in the right direction, I was actually weaving around and all over the place. Nobody stopped me so I think I was ok, I turned and saw the board saying 100m to finish!! thank god for that, I put on a little sprint down the finish chute, running down the red carpet and seeing the M gateway gave me such a boost. I had done it, I was a Ironman 70.3 finisher.
I do think that had the run been any further than 13.1 miles I wouldn’t have finished, I gave everything in that run and despite feeling terrible in the end and really struggling to hold any kind of consistent pace throughout, I had ran my 5th fastest half marathon, but 16 minutes off my PB pace.
Well to start, my target was 6 hours and I completed the 70.6 miles in 5:37.45, so I came home just over 24 minutes quicker than I hoped. That despite a few issues with the wetsuit and being held at the bike start as well as only having 3 hours sleep the night before and having to stop and sit down during the run. So all in all, a really good first Ironman 70.3.
My thoughts on Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire… I would definitely recommend this event if you are a first time Ironman. The setting up is a little tricky the day before, however, the athlete guide which is sent out a couple of weeks beforehand contains all of the info needed so it does really put your mind to rest. The help at registration and each of the transition areas was fantastic. The helpers answered all of my questions on course layout, ways in and out of transition etc, even when they didn’t know the answer they would go and bring someone over who could answer.
The Swim is great, the water was quite warm at 21c despite the mist, the bike route was fantastic, I loved this part. It was quick, not too hilly but still a couple of good hills in there, so if you are a good climber you can make up some places on these sections. The run course, I have to admit, when I saw the course on the plan with the twists, turns and hairpins I wasn’t sold by it and on the day it wasn’t an easy one to run, the turns made it difficult to get into your stride but that said, running loops in the town centre was good. Purely down to the support, there were so many people out supporting and cheering you on, shouting your name as you run by, this made the run enjoyable and fun for me.