IMUK 2012 Race Report
In times of austerity what better way to save a bit of money than to go back to your local race. No travel expense, roll out of bed race morning, less than an hour to the start and be ready to go with little fuss.
Also, having a sponsor pay your place is always a bonus and push in the right direction, so to Phil at dandmcycles.com I appreciate all of your support over the last 12 months mate, thank-you.
IMUK is based in the North West of the UK and with the swim location just 7 miles from me and the main bike route loop less than 20 miles away I’m in a great location to train and race on the new 2012 course.
I previously completed IMUK in 2009 when the swim was in Rivington, the bike loop was a little nastier and the run course a little shorter 🙂 The last 2 years have seen the race settle to a new start location just down the road at Pennington Flash. The bike route takes in the majority of the original climbs but by all accounts is not as hard as 2009 (bonus). Last year the run course suffered from a lack of accuracy and was 2 miles short, hopefully this year would be accurate. This was also the main reason I couldn’t compare times from last year to what I could achieve this year.
In 2009 I placed 33rd overall and was 6th in my AG. I took the prized Kona slot on a ‘lucky’ roll down. We originally only had 2 slots. We gained an extra one from the M70-74 AG and then incredibly 3 people declined, my race report from 2009 is here
IMUK is also the first IM I will have done more than once, it makes a change to know what I can expect on the day. I have now completed every official IM course in Europe except Regensberg and Kalmer, ones to tick off in the future maybe.
The lead up to July was good, 3 good months of training and racing, in May we traveled to Mallorca for the 70.3. Having had a bike fit 2 weeks before the race I already felt I was getting more power and able to run better off the bike, however, my good mate and constant race rival, Jeff, had other plans, he took me down in a close finish to take the first victory of the year by 1 minute.
In June the inaugural Valhalla 1/2 IM in Hull was cancelled so I entered Bala Middle and came 18th, happy with the result as the race was to be bike focused with a steady run. With Jeff again in hot pursuit, any chance of an easy run went out of the window, honours now even, we were both in the run up to the big race and both looking at qualifying and dare we say it, podium places.
Incidentally, after my 1st bike fit it turned out I was riding a bike too small for me, so after 7 years of riding my trusty titanium bullet I put a new steed together during June. I then went for my refit, this was due to smaller cranks, new saddle and different size bar/stem combo. All contact points that make a difference.
Then in late June it was time for the Maxifuel 1/2 IM in Marlow, this was my last race before IMUK and I had a shiny new bike to try out for size.
Here she is ……….
The race started well, strong swim, a good start to the bike put me in the mix after about 30 miles but I had made the cardinal sin the night before, I hadn’t gone to the race briefing, never a good idea at a new race.
A mixture of not very good signage, over exuberance at being in the lead and not knowing the course meant I went straight on at the penultimate roundabout instead doing an about turn and heading back to T2, this piece of stupidity added 9 miles to the bike leg !!! I was SO angry with myself, no one to blame but me. To make it worse I only realised when I was at the furthest point away.
I headed back to T2 as quick I could and donned the trainers, the run course was a mess, the tow path section was more like a swamp than a path, I think I went down at least twice and one of those was a sideways turn over my ankle, everything got tight, including my calves but I put this down to the uneven surfaces. After the 2 laps, 6 miles raced, I stopped, why ?
1. injury prevention
2. losing 25 mins because I was an idiot and
3. this wasn’t my A race
I decided to stop and to save myself for IMUK in 3 weeks and so, had my first DNF. Gutted, but at the time it was the right decision.
Over the next 2 weeks my calves were in a lot of pain, each time I did a bike/run session they tightened up, it was worrying, at first I blamed the race and going over on my ankle but that should have healed, it took a while searching through my training blog and comments to pin point in my feed back to Simon when it started. It could only be the bike fit.
Going over on my ankle at Marlow had taken my focus off the root cause, I knew what to do. I checked the original bike fit saddle height over the newer bike fit and it turns out a 10mm difference, I had already raised the saddle by over 40mm from the first fit, maybe a step too far. I reduced the height by 10mm and started nursing the calves back, 2 massages in a week, hot and cold treatments and limited running. Plenty of cycling and swimming. I was gaining the confidence back but the race would be the test.
The week prior to the race was the usual aches and pains everywhere, signs of a sore throat, trying to keep the lurgies away, Manuka honey in spoonfuls, eat sensibly and drink loads of liquid, no beer though 🙂
Aims for the race.
I always have race goals, I am also not shy in sharing, people knew I was going for Kona this year. A good friend missed out in IM France and I was gutted that if I got there he wouldn’t be going but I was also racing with Jeff at UK, he is in the M45-49 AG and we both knew he was targeting Kona qualification too. It just wasn’t mentioned ……….
This years qualification would be different though. I had made a deal with Kelly, if I wanted to go I would have to qualify by right, no rolldown. The trip to the big island would be stretching our finances to the max and we had been before on a rolldown, Kelly wanted the garden doing and saving for a deposit to move house, if I wanted to go that bad, work harder for it. I agreed.
It was an easy deal to make, my real aim was to podium, top 3. There were 7 slots provisionally, so top 3 meant Kona was a given but it would be tough, again, nothing else was said, it wasn’t needed.
In terms of race targets, I know I can swim an hour and change.
The bike was an unknown due to the course changes but I knew the terrain and the distance so I targetted 5.20-5.25.
The run is always based on what you can achieve after the bike, so I wanted a 3.20. Get off the bike strong and then run 7.40’s.
Goals set, day starts.
Phil and John picked me up at 5am, I prefer earlier but the course was only 20 mins away. It was a bit rushed but this was due to the portaloo queues and me faffing with nutrition on the bike.
We then queued for an age to get into the water, the national anthem played and then we waited, and waited, and waited. They had put a platform into the water but we had to sit down and ease into the lake as it was too shallow to dive.
I was getting worried I wouldn’t be on the start line in time, IM’s are notorious for starting when they want and not when people are ready, as it was, there was still nearly 800 people on dry land at 6am so we were delayed by 10 mins. I swam to the front and bumped straight into Jeff. We shook hands and waited.
Swim – 1:03:19
The hooter sounded and it was fairly calm for 500m or so but I wasn’t aware of the mass of people to my right as I breath to the left and I was drifting right. I got a few knocks to remind me I wasn’t alone, I had to breath to the right for a while to get my bearings and try to level out.
The buoys were hard to see, the interim buoys were yellow but so were the usual lake buoys, and I couldn’t see the larger orange ones from water level nearly a km away. To the first turn I wasn’t impressed with my swimming but once I turned, I settled into a better rhythm. The sighting was still hard but the way people were veering all around in front of me, I wasn’t the only one.
The swim was a 2 lapper with an Aussie exit, you swim 1.1 miles then get out on a ramp, run round a 50 metre dry land stretch and then get back in for the next 1.3 miles. 29 mins and change for the first lap, not great but at the time I thought I was halfway so I was very happy.
The 2nd lap was less frenetic but the sighting again was hard, I swam the second lap on my own with someone tinkling the ivories on my toes, annoying but also somewhat encouraging that I must be swimming OK for them to sit behind me.
Out in 1.03. Happy ish. I thought due to the sighting that was about right but mixed feelings as I also thought the end of the first lap was half way, I tried to work out where I lost 4 mins in my jog to T1 !
Course knowledge again you clown !
T1 – 3.44
Long run to T1, straight in to tent, grabbed bag, emptied on the floor. Wetsuit off pretty quickly, helper put that in the bag, thanks. Helmet on, glasses on. Then arm warmers which I roll into polo’s on my wrists (easier to roll them onto wet arms) and my Garmin for the run all put on while running to the bike.
Bike – 5:33:10
The bike is a 17 mile section out to a 31 mile loop which you then did 3 times. Then 2 miles from the loop to the T2 finish. Approximately.
I settled into the bike pretty quickly, drinking water for the first 30 mins before I started on the harder stuff 🙂 After about 8 miles I caught Jeff, we swapped chit chat, we both felt good so still game on, decided to get back to my own race. Eimear Mullen was also nearby and surrounded by camera bikes, quick acceleration to get my pirate bum on telly and then settle down again.
A mile later I heard a bang, more like a ping of metal, I knew I wasn’t carrying anything I could drop as my tools were in a bag. Then the sound of ‘ting, ting, ting’, bugger ! Snapped spoke !
This had happened at IMUK in 2009 and I had panicked. I had tried to pull the offending spoke out of the hub, which was never going to happen, I wasted 4-5 mins that day before someone brought me to my senses and encouraged me to wrap it round another spoke and carry on.
This time, I took a few minutes to calm down, then once I decided to stop, found the next slight down hill, waved to anyone behind me I was stopping and got off. I wrapped the spoke around the nearest one, made sure it was secure, straightened the brake caliper and tested the wheel, it was rubbing but I have aero brakes and they aren’t quick release, there was no way I was getting out a multi tool to loosen the shoulder bolts, it would have to rub. As I was stopped, Jeff whizzed past and asked if I was OK, I said I was fine and got back on.
It took a mile or two to get back my places and I overtook the camera bike again and set off to the foot of Sheep House Lane, the main climb.
SHL is just a steady climb, 3 times up it however can get a bit tough if you go out too hard. Its only about 3km with a short flat section in the middle, the on course support was starting to build and helped on the climbs, it was great to see, I started the climb and slowly clicked up to my lowest gear, sat up and span, I knew what this felt like after 3 go’s and its not pretty, conserve energy now for later.
The descent down to Belmont was a little bit unerving at 45mph with a buckled wheel but at that speed it wasn’t making much difference as long as I wasn’t using the brakes. No need, this is a great descent.
The course in general is pretty rolling but the stretch from Belmont to the M65 was wind behind, this was picking up gradually to quite a force and I knew if I didn’t take the chance to get free speed now I would be wasting valuable time. Turning back into the wind reminded me this was going to be a tough day. I was dancing with a few of the same names but as long as we didn’t draft I was happy. I did the first 3rd in 1.45. Too fast really but it was already too late, try to stay even paced and hold it, 5.15 was too quick for me in this wind but maybe I would surprise myself.
OK, so to most embarrasing moments of the day, there was a section on the course back to Rivington where I needed a pee on the move, it happened on laps 1 and 2 at the same point, both times Peter Timson was there cheering, I am sure he knew exactly what I was up to, not pedalling on a downhill normally gives it away, sorry to the lady you were with, I even got caught peeing by Linda on lap 3, couldn’t believe it 😉
I was obviously drinking well but I was eating well too, I had decanted 12 gels into a bottle and marked it off, taking a swig each 30 mins, I was also taking a bottle of water and Gatorade at each aid station and filling up on the go. The only scientific bit was the gels, the rest was on feel.
The second 3rd I did in 1.50, I was slowing and I could feel it in my legs, plenty of months of hard training coming onto effect right now, use the wind behind and downhills and just push to HR on the flats. I also saw the family on this lap, they were at the top end of the course near the M65, it felt great to have them along to support.
The 3rd and final climb over Sheep House Lane was tough, I tried to stay seated but as you can see below that wasn’t always possible. I was now noticing that getting the HR to rise at all was a struggle and it was sitting at about 140 on the flats, I had ‘de-coupled’ at that point. Still hanging on, the worst was over, the rest of the loop is the easy bit.
The last 10 miles I clock watched, the time go up and the miles go down, I didn’t take any nutrition in for the last 30 mins so I could let my stomach empty. I was only drinking water so I could get off and smack the run not feeling bloated from the start.
The feeling when you get to turn right at the bottom of Sheep House Lane to go to the finish and not left to go back up is AMAZING !! at last, nearly 5 1/2 hours and I was getting off in 4 mins, the support in that area for the finishers to the bike from the crowd was awesome.
T2 – 1:43
Well, there’s no point in hanging about !
The transition set up wasn’t what was explained the day before but I just got on with it, the run through the kids playground at the school hurt like hell on bare feet but I was being shouted by mates who were waiting so that took my mind off it.
Helmet and glasses off, socks, glasses, cap and gels on. Out.
Run – 3:31:45
The course was a good one to break down (or so I thought) 7ish miles out to the start of the loop, 2.6 miles to town to start the actual loops, then 3 loops of about 5.5 miles.
I had Carl with me for the first 30metres out of T2, I was in 2nd in my AG, I was ecstatic, that lasted about 2 mins until I was snapped out of it when a child stepped in front of me on the path to to Horwich, I nearly took his head off with my hip but managed to swerve round him.
The pressure of knowing my position filled my thoughts for a while. I really didn’t want to screw this up, there were 7 slots in my AG so if I didn’t collapse, we were going to Kona.
I tried to ignore the feeling that I could win my AG but it was hard, lets just keep in the top 3, there are some very fast runners in IM and they don’t tend to appear until the last 6 miles, I need to focus.
After about 1 mile I was passed, check his number, nope, OK. Then another one passed me, checked his number, nope, still OK, then I was passed again, jesus ! was I walking or what !! I was getting worried, I had gone too hard on the bike and I was paying for it, I looked back, no-one was there and I was running OK, admittedly I felt like shit but that’s normal.
I had to dig deep into the memory banks for the last time I felt like this, September at IMWales. All your body wants you to do is walk, you feel like you have run 25 miles already but you are only 3 miles in, you start to think how you can possibly still do another 23 miles but I tell myself in the last 5 IM races I have never walked until I was at an aid station or it was a planned power walk up a hill. Get a grip.
Just as I was approaching the canal I heard more footsteps, this constant passing isn’t going to end and I can’t spend 3 more hours looking at numbers, ‘Hi Nick, you must be in the mix ?’ It was Roger Cadham, we had met a few times before and been to Kona in 2009 together. ‘I was until you passed me’ I was smiling. ‘Not in your AG mate, keep it going, see you in Lava Java’ and with that he was gone. He is an awesome runner and did a 3:09. I felt better that it was going to take that level to get past me now.
The climb off the canal to the Chorley New Road is brutal so I power walked the first bit. Then I caught my first glimpse of the main road for the next 2 1/2 hours or so, it was pretty much uphill one way and down hill the other but rolling, so no real flat to speak of.
Emma and Mike were at the turn with Dan, all 3 of them are good friends and very knowledgeable at IM, nothing but good encouragement, focused on making sure I went away smiling and back full of positive thoughts, that never stopped for the next 6 times I passed them so many thanks.
At this point I kept myself occupied with who I was near, what numbers they were, how I was doing but all the time just clicking the miles off. Coming into town the first time was brilliant, the support was amazing again, Kelly, her sister and family, my mum and Teya all shouting loads, Paul and Jan, too many to mention, it was a shame I had to leave so quickly 🙂
The downside of coming down into town was the climb back out, it was awful, I slowed considerably and it was getting hotter, every aid station was 2 cups of water on me, 1 in me and a cup of coke. I was taking gels every 3 miles starting at 3 so it was easy to track.
Coming into town for the 2nd lap finish I had one of my favourite moments, I could hear people shouting Eimears name again (she would go on to win the womens race) and I could hear the motorbike with her, so I speeded up, yep, I wanted a bit more air time. It took her about 3 mins longer to get past me than it would have done if I hadn’t changed gears. The HR went a bit skyward but it was a downhill and I could afford a bit of pace at that time. She eventually passed and I had to let her go, albeit slowly but I needed to conserve for the last lap and I was getting twinges that I didn’t want to feel in my calf and hamstring.
It was also here that I passed someone in my AG going into town, I was in 2nd, OMFG !!
DO NOT GIVE UP, the pounding up and down the hills were hurting my quads and the soles of my feet were starting to feel blistered. I know it sounds twee but on more than one occasion I was chanting, ‘you are awesome, don’t give up, I am NOT shit !!!’ over and over. That little mantra came from some very dear friends who know exactly the kind of encouragement I thrive on. xx
The 5.5 mile lap distance was working well to this point, easily broken down in chunks. Not anymore, lap 3 was the longest 2.75 miles to the top end of the course EVER ! It was so hot now that I was grabbing cups and cups of water, I think I was doing 8.30’s and really pushing hard. I still felt strong and focused on the floor in front of me. I could hear friends and supporters but by now I couldn’t even say thanks. The turn came at the right time, I had had enough of climbing, 2.7 miles home, almost all downhill, my quads were by now screwed, I was numb from the thigh down but was super focused, I still thought I was in second at this point.
Mike shouted some more encouragement as I passed them and I gave the thumbs up for the support.
Getting to the bottom of the main hill was a great feeling, due to the lapped course there were so many people around me that it was hard to see if anyone was near me in the race, it didn’t stop me looking over my shoulder though. I kicked on the last main road and straight through the aid station grabbing water and throwing it over me, if I was chasing someone, this would be where I would make a move, I didn’t want to be snuck past here, not far to go, less than 1/2 a mile.
The crowd were so noisy, it was hard to hold back emotion but I just wanted to finish, I could hear the announcer, I didn’t hear any music, just chanting, rounding the final bend I saw my family, quick look behind and I had time for a kiss for Teya, apparently she wanted a high five but I didn’t have time to ask lol.
I lapped it up, I was so happy, I didn’t want to believe I had podiumed until it was confirmed but I couldn’t hold it back, I screamed all the way up the finish chute, aeroplaned back and forth and high fived as many as I could.
It turns out I was actually 3rd in my AG and 30th overall out of 1428 starters. I had achieved both aims, podium and qualify.
Jeff, my long time friend and training partner did one better, he might have finished behind me but got 2nd in AG and qualified, AWESOME !
Special thanks to all the on course helpers, the race has come on so much since 2009 it was a remarkable effort, there are always race niggles but I can’t remember any that I would bother mentioning, fantastic.
To the supporters, family and friends on the course, they were just popping up everywhere, it was so good to know people were there to shout encouragement. The armchair supporters on the internet, I knew they were there because the info was so good to people on the ground, thanks.
Then to Kelly, long suffering IronSherpa, has to endure a holiday to Kona, sorry love I know you wanted a new garden. Maybe next year xx