UK IronMan 70.3 – a (not so) brief guide…

7 06 2012

I am in no way an expert triathlete, I’m pretty average, so I’ve avoided giving specific race advice because it’s your race and should be based on your training. If you want to know something in particular, put a comment at the bottom, or drop me a message through the “contact me” page.

Pre-Race:

I’m a big fan of camping on the site, it’s got a good atmosphere, everyone’s there for the same reason so it’s quite quiet at night and it’s just a short stroll to the race site. If you’re staying somewhere else then be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get parked etc. on race morning. I camped off-site at my first race, in 2008, and had a problem with the car getting to the start, then a queue to get into the car park… this was all on top of the adrenaline that was already coursing through my veins!

 It’s worth noting that on-site it always seems to be cold overnight. It may be June, it may be lovely and warm during the day, but at night it’s FREEZING, bring a blanket!

Registration has always been pretty straight-forward. Don’t forget your BTF licence if you’re a member, and be sure to check in the race documentation if you need some form of ID with you… I don’t know what the specifics are with that, I need to check too! You’ll get a whelming collection of bags and sheets of stickers and flyers for free stuff.

While these seem confusing it’s actually pretty simple…

The stickers go in the various sticker places, they say where to put them, just pay attention and it’ll be fine.

I like to set out all the stuff I will need for the swim, all the stuff I’ll need for the bike, and all the stuff I’ll need for the run. The swim stuff, including tri-suit, gets put on race morning, so goes in the WHITE bag. Everything you want for the bike ride, goes in the Blue Bag, since the only things that can be left on your bike are nutrition and your bike shoes if you go for the flying start the blue bag always seems the most full. The Red Bag is your run bag; trainers, a hat, it’s pretty simple.

I ALWAYS over think this bit of it and have a small panic, but simply lay out everything you’d take to any race, and then stuff the relevant bits of it in the relevant bags… there’s nothing to it 

Expo…

They sell stuff there. There’s all kinds of things from bikes to shoe laces; if you find out you need something on the day (like the tyre levers I lost in the back of my Dad’s car in ’08) then it’s there, but I wouldn’t recommend relying on it.

Phone signal…

On site there is none!

Practice swims…

There are two, I think, one on Friday one on Saturday. You have to be registered to get to swim, but I’m a firm believer in doing it.

Why? Well… what’s the water going to be like? If it turns out my wetsuit has shrunk (or, more likely, I’ve got fat) there’s time to do something about it.

Most importantly you get a feel for landmarks to look for in the swim, since although the buoys are big, they’re surprisingly hard to see from the water, if you can spot a landmark on the shore it’s easier to swim for that then the buoy just “turns up” 

Gear Check-in…

Is pretty straight forward; turn up at the tent, they’ll tick you off! Put your bike where your number is on the rack, then take your bags to the relevant hooks. It’s worth noting at this point exactly where your bags and bike. I’ll probably do several run throughs, coming from either the swim exit or the bike exit to exactly where my stuff is. I’ve lost time grabbing the wrong bag in the past, I don’t want to make the same mistake again.

Don’t over pump your tyres at this point! I think it was in ’09 that we were sat in the briefing tent and during a quiet bit there was a very loud bang from the bikes… everyone looked over panicked as they realised the sun had just warmed someone’s tyres beyond their capacity. Make time to pump them up on Race Morning!

Briefing…

This will be my fourth time at the briefing, I don’t expect to find out anything I didn’t know before… but if something had changed, I’d feel like a real idiot if I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t bother to turn up! It’s up to you.

Race Day!

Arrive with plenty of time to spare, you never know what might go wrong, and be sure to bring plenty of warm clothes as it can get pretty chilly. The race start used to be at 6am and there were issues with the fog on the lake, in ’10 they’d moved it back to 7am and that seemed to solve the problem, but be prepared to wait around for a bit. Ask yourself, if you’re waiting around what are you going to want? For me it’s something to drink, something to munch on, and to be warm enough.

Swim!

The walk down to the lake is quite long and it’s on grass… if you have someone spectating arrange a spot with them so you can wear a set of flip-flops or something down to the water’s edge and then pass them over, it’s going to be a long day and you don’t want to start with cold feet. Having said that, it’s something I’ve never actually remembered to do, so it’s not that big a deal.

Heading down to the swim in ’10

In my first two years I hung back a bit, the result was I was at the very back of the swim start, and I didn’t have long to get used to the water and to warm my wetsuit before we were off. Personally I’m happier getting in early, having a swim warm up, getting comfortable in my suit and getting a good spot on the start line. For me that’s towards the front on the outside; I’m confident enough in my swimming now that I don’t mind a bit of a tussle at the beginning and being at the front I have a better chance of getting someone’s feet to draft the way round. Do what you’re comfortable with though, if you’re going to swim in breast-stroke and you want clear water, hang back.

This is the front of the swim start in ’10, it’s pretty exciting to be in!

T1…

It feels like the longest run in the world up from the lake to T1. Apparently it’s 400m, but coming out of the water I find my heart rate will spike if I sprint up there, and it’s hard to walk with the crowds supporting you, and knowing that everyone that passes you is a place lost! I tend to jog up, and be happy… one leg down, two to go.

T1 will likely be chaos, bodies everywhere. Grab your bag, you know where it is from all that planning… Find a spot and make it your own. If you can find a helper so much the better, get your wetsuit down below your waist, lie on your back, give them the arms, and get them to pull!

Be sure you have everything you need, I run a quick check; helmet, glasses, number, shoes, go. Dump your wet stuff in the bag (trying not to tear it, they tear very easily!) drop the bag with the others, shout thanks to the helpers and get to your bike.

Bike…

Before the race it’s worth having a quick spin up from the T1 exit to check what gear you’re going to be in. There will be a lot of people around, and this is not the place to try the shoes-on-the-pedals mounting for the first time. You need to be sure that when you start off you can spin up the first incline, because it will feel like everyone around you is a moron and can’t ride in a straight line. Hold your line, be defensive, but be aware of others.

The beginning of the ride is pretty chaotic, but once onto the first main road is opens out and isn’t an issue again. They’ll have warned in the briefing about the difficult spots on the ride.

Someone put this video together which gives a better indication of what the bike course is like than I can, so it’s worth watching. YouTube Link.

Remember it’s two laps. That means you head to the lake once, then turn right, the next time you’re heading to the lake it’s back to transition… on my first year there I was tired and cold by this point so got confused and thought I had to do another lap. I was ready to DNF, but was SO happy when I realised I could just head back to Transition… how little I knew about what would follow!

Be sure to check the weather forecast, and put some thought into what you’re going to be wearing. In ’08 there was hail at one point on the ride and I wasn’t prepared for this mentally or with the right kit. In ’09 and ’10 the weather was lovely!

Pacing is something only you can decide on, in ’08 a regular said to me “if you think you’re taking it too easy, you’re probably pushing too hard” which wasn’t a bad mantra for getting around the course. It is a tough bike course, but people tend to focus too much on the difficulty of the bike and not enough on the difficulty of the run, if you go into the run with your legs more tired than necessary it’s going to be uncomfortable!

T2…

By now I tend to find I’m not thinking as clearly as I should be and in ’10 I grabbed the wrong bag at T2 which cost me some time, and probably my goal for that year (5:45), I was 645, and I picked up 654’s bag.

Sitting down to put your shoes on is one of the nicest sensations in the world, but getting up to run again isn’t, so I’m a firm believer in not taking too much time there. It’s generally not as busy at T1, so there’s a bit more space to do your thing, and the volunteers have a bit more opportunity to help you out. Be sure to say thanks as you head out onto the run, safe in the knowledge that you’re now 57.2 miles into your 70.3.

Run…

There tends to be a pretty big crowd on the exit of the transition tent, it can be easy to get carried away with the excitement that you’re “nearly there” and run too fast. My main piece of advice for the run is pace lap one relatively easy, get a feel for what it’s like and what you’re like then go for it!

There’s no denying it, this run is HARD. It only has one flat bit, the out and back on the dam, and at times there’s not much crowd support. The first big hill comes after you pass the start/finish line and you’ll have to run up this three times, each one will seem worse than the last, and don’t be ashamed of walking – most people do.

It was here I was told “don’t worry mate, if it was easy it would be called Football”.

After taking the first lap pretty easy I intend to gauge how I’m feeling, if it’s anywhere above mediocre (and to be honest that’s as good as I could hope to feel by then) I’ll pick it up for lap 2. Lap 3 is all about just suffering through it, there’s nothing to lose, and when you make the turn onto lap 3 you’ve only got about 4 miles to go. Think how many times you’ve run just 4 miles in training… it’s time to “put yourself in the hurt box and fight your way out”.

To make it more interesting for me, I try to engage some of the crowds, see if you can get a big cheer, you pass a lot of them twice per lap so can get a bit of a following if you’re prepared to make the effort. At the IronMan in Bolton last year, on my final lap I was thanking groups I’d had a laugh with and one of them commented “thanks for being the most polite athlete out there”; I don’t know what I did to achieve that, but having a joke with them on each lap made it easier for me, and hopefully made it more enjoyable for them.

Oh, and smile for the finish line camera!

Post Race…

Feeling broken

This is how broken I looked after my effort in 2010, and I still missed my goal by 3 minutes :(

There’s a place for a massage, there’s food, but for me the #1 thing to do is get some clothes on! You’re going to have worked really hard by this point, you’ll be covered in sweat, Gatorade, gels and it’s really easy to start to feel cold. I like to keep moving, to stay on my feet, trying not to seize up. Cheer some fellow competitors in, and get some food/drink on board. After a hard effort I really struggle to eat anything solid for a while, so like to get a recovery shake down me.

Every year I mean to pack a toothbrush and some toothpaste since by this point I’ve eaten nothing but sweet stuff for quarter of a day and my teeth are a horrible furry mess. Every year I forget to do this and lament it!

Enjoy your post-race experience. Don’t be shy about what you’ve just done; you’ve propelled yourself over 70.3 miles, tell people about it with pride.

If you see me around say “hi”, I now have a beard that’s not in the above pictures, but I’ll be racing in a Natives.co.uk dark-blue Tri-Suit which to the best of my knowledge is the only one there.

If you’ve not had enough of my experiences at Wimbleball, you should have! But there are race reports…

2010 – Link to Tri Talk

2009 – Link to TriTalk


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2 responses

13 06 2012
Chris

Thanks so much for posting this – I am also doing the race this Sunday and it will all be about survival for me rather than a time based on my lack of hill training on the bike. Just hoping that the rain stops before the weekend as will be additional bog snorkelling leg before the swim!

13 06 2012
Iain MacNaughtan

Yeah, I’m not whelmed with joy at the prospect of the rain and camping!

Have a great race!

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