Ironman UK 2016 – Race Report
IMUK is my home race, the support grows each year, since 2009 I have seen this change in such a great way, the race is embraced fully. It’s also an honest course, the bike is tough, changes over the years only making it harder still. The run can be broken into sections but its pretty challenging all the same. As the day draws on the support grows to a point where it resembles a European race, its enough to make the strongest well up. Being a home race and a local athlete there is a lot of support and this makes it a special place to compete. This year I was lucky enough to get a place through my relationship with Triathlete Europe, I didn’t hesitate and I can’t thank TE and IMUK for the opportunity to race on my home turf.
My expectations were high going into the race, I wanted to podium and if things went well, the goal was the AG win. After a 3rd in 2012 there was no reason why not to aim high. I had a few good signs.
- I had just aged up, so on race morning I was 44 but competing in the M45-49 group, which helps a little.
- The training camp in Fuerteventura with TTT in February had catapulted the start of the year, 7 days of train, eat, sleep, repeat.
- Aero improvements, bike fit, skinsuit and ceramic speed bearings everywhere, my money had gone on the marginal gains this year.
The build up to the race had gone well, consistent training, I deferred my London Marathon entry so it didn’t impact my training. I also raced well in the build up. I felt good. As long as I stuck the plan and didn’t get ill I would be on the start line well prepared. I’ve been using XEndurance products for a few years and popping Immune Boost pills became an obsession in the fortnight preceding the race but it worked.
My nutrition plan was to carry my own, not something I would advocate beginners try as it can be a bit stressful but I had trained really well on XEndurance Fuel5 and went with a concentrated bottle. I tested this on my last long rides and it worked well, calculating I needed 300cal an hour on the bike and then aim for around 200cal on the run.
On the bike, that equates to a concentrated bottle of Fuel5 with 1000cal, a bottle of gels with 500cal, enough for 5 hours, add the 2 x Double Expresso ‘super’ gels to my top tube for a blast at 40 and 80 miles and all I need to do is pick up water.
The last change was the skinsuit, thanks to Chris I was racing in one of the fastest suits made, wearing it in my build races had worked well, I was sold, reluctantly it was out with the ‘pirate’ skull and crossbones and in with the slippery suit.
So, all that ramble to show you what this race was about for me, time was irrelevant, Kona wasn’t the driver, just the win, I hadn’t made this public on social media as I wasn’t about to disrespect my competitors, or more likely make me a target or them more determined ! But anyone I spoke to that asked got the stock same answer, ‘I want to win, the day will tell’
Waking up at 3am, breakfast, coffee, sort out the concentrate bottles and then chill. Get dressed, Graham was arriving at 4:30 and we would be off. I had plenty of time to check my kit and get the bike ready.
The only concern with a skinsuit is being caught short so I wanted to get my trip to the loo timed well, the suit is pretty much peeled on and off, it’s hard enough doing this with someone helping, trying to persuade someone to attempt this during the race near a shit smelling, fly infested plastic portaloo is unlikely to get the reaction you are hoping for. To my dismay the amount of toilets wasn’t enough and the queues were huge. I was starting to worry about getting to the start so couldn’t really relax. Eventually the queuing was over and I got my wetsuit on.
I said bye to Kelly and went to the front, I looked for familiar faces on the 55-60 mins line and found Brian Fogarty, Paul Guinan, Will Turton and Marc Laithwaite to name a few, I was in good company. We all said hi, shook hands and waited for the start.
Below is my handwritten expectation of the day done on the Wednesday (very scientific !), I am normally pretty close, times on the left, transition times on the right, overall time to aim at 10:04.
My swim training in 2016 had been woeful, it’s a weakness that I don’t work on, my pre race expectation was a 1:02, that was best case, I’ve swum around 60 mins in each ironman for the last 4 years but over the last 4 months I had swum once a week, much to the chagrin of my coach, at best twice, I wasn’t expecting to break records.
The start was pretty uneventful, I knew it wasn’t very deep off the pontoon (later I found out one of my mates would end his race here after landing on rocks) so I decided to half dive, half belly flop into the melee, then I was off. Not so sure why my swimming has speed sets in it during my training as there is one speed and one stroke. We were underway.
I went a bit wide to start but worked my way back to the inside to catch a draft, first lap in 30:32. Great support at the Aussie exit, I hoped an indication of the day. Down the pontoon, belly flop again, this one at speed and a bit too hard, winded for about 500m. The congestion got really bad around 2500m and I realised we were into the back markers way too early, there must have been issues getting them into the water.
Took a bit more effort to make sure I didn’t upset someone’s race as I know how stressful the swim can be and us AG’ers coming through must have been a nightmare for some. The final buoy was soon in sight and I knew the day was really going to start in a few minutes. I lost a bit on the second lap but it was expected.
It’s a long run to T1, I thought I was motoring and it seems slow but its above average for the group I was in. Losing minutes in transition can be crucial at the end, I wanted every minute. Into tent, helmet on, wetsuit in bag and out. Everything else was on the bike.
I was excited to get going, I intended riding to power to ensure my effort was measured over the full 5+ hours. Using Nick Lloyd’s calculations when we did IM Copenhagen I knew I had to ride at 3watts/kg to produce a decent bike leg. To achieve this I lost weight and worked on my power numbers in the build so that my target of 215w wasn’t at some astronomical % of my max.
The support in Pennington really sets you off with a smile, its 7am and there are loads of supporters, it’s such a buzz for the athletes, this was to become a theme of the race and I am so impressed how this has grown over the last 10 years. I wasn’t wearing a club kit so I was keeping people on their toes but the WRC cheer squad got me on the way out. I settled down into my position, the course is 14 miles slightly uphill to the 2 loops, then 2 x 47 miles with plenty of undulation and 2 major climbs to contend with on each lap. The last 3-4 miles gets you back to the Macron.
My Garmin only showed the essentials, averages for HR, power, speed alongside totals for mileage and time. The next 45 minutes was spent passing people and trying not to ‘hunt’ riders, stick to the plan. I knew there were riders around me that I would still be with in 5 hours but I tried to ignore everyone else for now. I was also impressed at the legal riding, after the debacle of Barcelona last year it was refreshing to work legally with people and never once think they were trying to gain an advantage unfairly.
The first hill at Sheep House was eerily quiet at 8am, a few of the St Helens lads were at the café and I got a few shouts, I must have interrupted Nik’s breakfast as he nearly missed me and I could still hear him 500m up the hill. I was using oversize jockey wheels so my gearing wasn’t what I would have picked for the hills, it’s not a problem but it means the steeper parts I wasn’t spinning much and still putting out 300+watts, it was pretty much the only place I was passed the whole day.
Have to mention the party going on at the top of SHL, music blaring, loads of noise, people dressed as wrestlers, they are a standard feature here now and it was fun to break into a smile knowing I would see them again in about 2.5 hours. The downhill off SHL a few weeks before had been treacherous, loose chip and no road markings but it was definitely better, cresting the top I set off on my favourite part, down hilling.
The rest of the first loop was pretty uninteresting, the Fuel5 system was working well, my power stayed constant, I worked hard to keep it even on the downs as well as the ups. I went through 37 miles in 1:53, perfect. The middle section from SHL to Hunters is a place to pick up time, it’s not flat but steady rolling terrain, my average speed started to climb again towards the magic 20mph.
I hadn’t raced on Hunters hill before but as this is on my doorstep I knew what it looked like and felt like, especially with a less than optimal rear cassette ratio on. What I hadn’t seen before was the support. Spine tingling, TriCentralUK and their group were here, real good solid shouts. The rest of the climb was ticked off, next target, SHL for the second time. The pirate massive had moved to Jolly Tar Lane, great to see Q, Jordy, Jo, Dan and a few others.
The third main area of support is at Adlington on Babylon Lane, known as Colt Alley, this is where I saw Kelly for the first time and felt the growing support on the course, not quite full yet as it was still early but it was amazing to see friends just throwing all that effort at you at that moment. Kelly, Jon and Angie then started popping up all over the place, they must have covered a fair few miles before the run even started.
Second lap was much the same, I was joined by Phil from St Helens Tri and without a word we worked together legally, we grabbed another 2 on the way round, I lost time on the ups and then made it back on the downs, repeat over and over. Up Hunters and this was now growing to TdeF numbers, enough room for 1-2 bikes to get through, the crowd so loud it hurt my ears which by now were very tuned into the silence of the rest of the loop. I was definately feeling the benefit of power and early pacing, I was still strong and pulled a 40 metre gap on the group of 3 or 4 behind me. I never really got away but I felt good and my numbers were telling me if I stayed steady the run would be bearable. The power was dropping to around 200w but the course was flattening out.
Then Colt Alley appeared for the final time, I nearly stopped in my tracks, I have only ever seen that type of support on the major hills in European races, I think I mouthed OMFG out loud. Bolton is in the big leagues of support!! It was A-MAZ-ING !! There was no effort needed to get up that hill the last time, you were sucked through the crowd, I was still smiling when I hit the high street at Horwich. I must have put on a burst as I had no one behind me now.
Steady last few miles to T2.
Transition was a welcome relief but I was over the moon with the bike split, power 211w, 20.2mph average on that course was justification around the months of prep and coaching from Chris. Jumping off the bike in bare feet on that car park is pretty painful stuff, loads of stones, sore feet already but all I could do was smile. Rack bike (well, flung at the rail) and passed the DJ giving it loads of cheeky banter.
Bag handed to me, socks, trainers, Caffeine gels, hat, glasses on. Helmet dumped. Hang bag. Go.
It felt good to be running.
In the build-up I had done 3 long runs in the last 5 weeks, 18, 20 and 22 miles, they were great confidence boosters, my pace and nutrition fine tuned. I was so up for this run with the belief from my taper that I honestly was looking forward to this the most.
Paul Carmichael was on the exit to T2, very calmly he gave me a shout and reminded me how long the day was and not to do something silly too early, those words resonated all the way down the canal. Cheers mate. Jon, Kelly and Angie were at the top of the hill out of T2. I was leading, 20 places picked up on the bike but next in my AG was only 20 secs behind me coming into T2, outside of this I had a few minutes. I aimed for around 7:20 pace to gain time before the loops started when the pace would fluctuate, the canal is pretty good place to get into a rhythm.
By now my nutrition was getting to the usual level of tolerance, the Fuel5 had worked a treat on the bike but adding the 10 Hi5 gels on top meant I was at my current limit. It becomes a fine balance as I need to fuel at around 200cal per hour on the run but the next gel/drink could push me over the edge. I was carrying 3 of the super gels, I needed them at the 6, 12, 18 mile marks, they had about 90cal each, I would normally supplement with on course gels and coke but I couldn’t think about sticking more in me right now. I decided I had to settle with water and my stomach would follow, no need to panic.
The canal is a lonely place, a few photographers and marshals, the sun was bliss but would impact us later if I couldn’t keep cool. I sought tree cover where possible and unzipped the suit to ventilate.
For whatever reason, there is one part of the course no one mentions, I am not sure why, or whether people just forget it, it’s worse than the hill in town and more draining than the whole of the ‘out’ part of the course, getting off the canal is a PIG!!! Steep, long, lonely and stifling. Pace drops, HR rises and effort is maxed out, the only thing that ensures you forget it, is coming out onto Chorley Road into the crowds, the next phase starts, click over mentally to ‘section to town’. I hadn’t been passed by one person at this point so I knew I was doing well but I still needed splits to be sure.
The section into town was time to pick up the pace after the hill from the canal. Hit the turnaround and push, I was grabbing as much water as I could, 3 cups on me, 1 in me, I resisted coke for the moment as this was the first expresso gel, I love these things, it does say on the box only 2 a day and I was now on number 3 on top of 10 standard caffeine gels, I am sure there should be a disclaimer but I didn’t care, in about 10 mins the stuff would start to work to the muscles, my mouth receptors took an immediate hit though. Ian joined me here for a few minutes cycling behind me, careful not to ride next to me, I could hear his advice and words pushing me on, how well I was doing.
Running downhill into town for the first time is a great feeling, by the time you get to town you have ticked off nearly 10 miles and the mental games begin but for now I was feeling good. TriCentralUK had moved to Bark Street and was good to see them again.
The town centre was impressive, the support is astounding, maybe being a local and used to normal races its not expected but we have a great triathlon community here and all the local clubs were out, I saw Jon as I ran into town, here it comes, time splits, I’ve got 8 minutes. In previous years that would have started all sorts of maths in my head, this year it was just info, I am still ahead, 16 miles is a massive distance and it could go pear shaped at any time. I hit the turn at the finish line and started the mental lap calculator, 3 x 5.5 miles to go. WRC cheer squad saw me at this point again, loads of support as I left the cobbles.
As I ran past Jon again he shouts, you have 14 minutes now ! I know what the trackers can do and this I ignored, I would stick to 8 mins in my head, what had happened is that the guys right behind me on the bike had dropped off and one of the better runners was now on my case.
Each lap consists of 2.75 miles of gradual incline of around 100m elevation to the turn around, then 2.75 miles back into town. By now the crowds at the 2 pubs opposite each other on Chorley Road were swelling onto the pavements, the shouts were great, I picked up a band and made the turn, again, push to town.
The first lap out of town is easier to break down as its just getting through the first half marathon, I was still only taking water and coke at the aid stations, the heat was getting to me a little and a small wave of nausea would come over occasionally, at the time I didn’t realise it was the heat and just thought, like everyone else, I felt like shit because this is ironman and it’s not easy ! Ian Dickens and Martin Holden on the course at the bottom of the loop gave me a few shouts. Jon was there again, it was down to 10 mins. He was running just under 30 secs a mile faster, I had no idea who it was and to be honest it didn’t matter, I just had to keep going.
Aid stations are an athlete’s favourite place on the run course and a curse for the unaware. I dreamt for 2 miles out of town for the aid station at the top end of the run but the minute I hit it I had to move quickly, gel went in 20 metres before I got there, I grabbed the first 3 waters still moving, 2 on me, 1 in me, walk hard to the coke lady, take 1 making sure this didn’t go over me (done that, not a pretty look) get running again. All in all I think I speed walked for maybe 20 seconds. For the athlete not paying attention dawdling through an aid station can waste nearly 20 minutes over a marathon. Head back to town, still in a really good place as it was now around 8 miles to go and this is my standard run loop but the legs knew I had done 18 already.
Last lap, Jon gave me 8 minutes at the top end of the course, that was 2.5 miles ago and I had 5.5 miles to go, he would have to do a minute a mile faster, you know what, if he did, well done but I wasn’t slowing significantly. At this point the legs start to hurt, not because they didn’t hurt before now but I suddenly felt aware, everything is magnified. I knew I just had to make it to the turn around and it would be downhill to the finish. The feeling as I turned for the last time was starting to build, I just had to keep moving, the speed increased, the pain was huge in my quads, the cheering became more distant in my head, I heard friends, I heard strangers, I tried to block out the pain and the sound went with it.
This is also the first time I checked my watch all day for overall time, it had been that unimportant up to now but I clicked it over to see if I was close to 10 hours, nope, it was already 10:04 and I had at least a mile to go.
Hitting the steep downhill was awful, all I wanted to do was let go and everyone was encouraging me to do it but I thought my legs were going to give way. Past the Cullens, ‘Go Nick’ past the aid station, take nothing, dodging people hunting for food and water. Into the straight, pirate shouts, Rob Wilby and Scott shouting, then the WRC cheers squad again, the loudest group in town by far! I was going to do this, I saw Laithwaite, I goaded him to a sprint, I saw Kelly, Jon and Angie. I was so proud, I had zipped up my trisuit lol, just interested in the finisher photo! I was still worried about my chaser so I didn’t high 5 anyone. Finisher chute, I love the finisher chute! I screamed at the end. Overall Time 10:11:26
Overwhelmed at the support would be an understatement of massive proportions. The online and on course support was a massive lift so thank you all. Having this as a target all year and actually doing it, it’s hard to say what it means to me to win my AG. I have been racing for 16 years and never won anything, I have seen mates do it and felt so proud for them, now I know how it feels I want to do it again. I worked hard to get to the race with the best possibility of doing what I set out to do that I would have been disappointed not to win.
I know my closest chaser Joe Duckworth had time stolen from him in the chase, a puncture and a rookie (his own words) mistake in T2 (and yes, I would have gone back too), those 2 things were worth 6 minutes. I won by 4 ½ minutes. It could have been different.
You cannot take anything for granted, I might have had the win on my radar but I’m sure others did too, I am sure Joe will agree, it’s about the whole 10 hours that precede the finisher chute, we take everything thrown at us in the race and deal with it, we don’t complain that we could have been faster if this and that happened, we just race, and whoever crosses the line first, wins.
I loved the race and the chase, Joe is off to Kona with a number of other athletes I know and I will be watching, local athletes to support off to smash the big island again, I wish them well and sure we will all be racing head to head next year.
I need to thank a few people, Kelly, my wife and chief ironsherpa, without her support in the last 6 months I would never have got to the start line ready to race. Special mention to Jon and Angie, great friends who came out to support with Kelly on the day and provide my splits all day, thanks. My coach, Chris Standidge of Total Tri Training for pushing me hard and helping with the marginal gains. My sponsors, Xendurance which I relied on heavily for my training and especially this race, it worked out perfectly, BikmoPlus Cycle Insurance, who although didn’t need to cover me for travel to Bolton have my back for all my training and will be with me all the way in Mallorca, Triathlete Europe for the place on the start line, Hey Dude Shoes – which I am never out of – and Phil at D&M Cycles for still letting me stroll in once in a blue moon, grab a load of gels and bars and provide coffee.
Finally, my training mates, it’s what makes this sport so much fun, extended family and friends who are always there to support both me and my family. My new team, WRC, extremely supportive and the loudest cheer squad in town.