On Sunday 22nd September I took part in Weymouth Ironman 70.3. This was my second time at Weymouth for the event and my third middle distance triathlon. Below, I'll walk you through each part of my day right up to the moment I crossed that red carpet!
The Day Before...
I arrived on Friday, so I was settled in. Used the morning to head down to registration, collect my numbers, etc. Then went to rack my bike. We're all good up to this point! I was calm and confident.
Then I decided to go for a run, nice and easy to open the legs up. I ran a little over 2km. However, I was aiming for around 4km. 50 meters before I passed my hotel, I tripped and stubbed my knee! The rest of the day was spent making sure I still good to race (I was, of course!), and doing what I could to manage it.
Finally got to the end of the day, I applied my race tattoos, and went to sleep, around 9 am. Naturally, the buzz of the next day kept me awake, and I'd then wake up every hour or so wondering if my alarm had gone off.
Race morning - wakeup @ 4:50am
Alarm went off, without any issues! Got up, and double-checked everything, before chugging a red bull (started doing this pre-race this year.. I figured best not stop now), had a small bowl of muesli/yogurt/orange juice (ate well the previous few nights, and I'll eat again on the bike).
Walked down to the transition area for one last check of the bike, for sanity mostly. On the way down we heard the swim has been shortened. A typical middle distance triathlon is 1,900m swim. Today it was cut to 950m. Which, was just like 2018. The swim was cut short for our safety, and I trust the organisers made the right call. Disappointing nevertheless that I didn't get to swim the full distance.
Last year was a different story. I was delighted to hear the swim had been cut short because I didn't train for it very well (hardly at all). After that race, I vowed I'd do better! So I joined my local triathlon club: Bath Amphibians. They hold swim sessions up at University of Bath's Sports Training Village, where we're lucky to have a full 50m Olympic sized pool for training in. Plus we have kick-ass coaches on the side, who organise & structure our swim sets.
Oh, last thing before I move on... Before the swim start, I was dying for a wee. But the queue was so long and the call had gone out for us to start lining up for the start! I decided to hold it. More on this later.... #weegate
Swim start - 7:35am - 950m
The swim start is self-seeded based on your own estimated finish time for the swim. So fastest swimmers at the front, slower/less confident towards the back.
Last year I was at the back of the swim, this year I pushed as close to the front as I could manage.
My open water swimming has come on leaps and bounds. At work, we've been trying to encourage people to head down to our local swim spot for some Thursday night open water practise. This, plus regular swim sets with the Amphibians, and open water drills with them once a month is what helped me so much!
The swim started is gated, and that's where the first timing mat is. You'll be allowed through by the volunteers every 10 seconds (I think!), then you can cross the mat and begin your swim!
It's worth mentioning that in the two days I was Weymouth before the race, the sea was far from calm. Waves were crashing everything, it was rough out there. Day of the race though? Much calmer.
The swim course itself is almost a triangle, and you start and finish in roughly the same spot, but there's two turning points out on the course.
I crossed the mat, legged it into the water and started swimming as hard as I knew I could (and believe me.. my shoulders were not happy with me the day after for it!).
As I reached the first turning buoy I felt I had done well. But as I went around the corner I felt my pace drop. At this point you're swimming parallel to the coast, the swell and current is pushing you around slightly and I feel like it was this that impacted my swim speed here.
I reached the second buoy, then I went wrong. As I mentioned, the swim course is a triangle. So as I turned my natural reaction was to swim straight towards the coast! Having veered off course slightly I noticed I was approaching the volunteer kayakers, corrected my course, went wrong again, correct my course, cut up a few people (sorry), and eventually reached the swim finish!
My official swim time was 0:18:04, making that a swim pace of 1:54 per 100m.
Last year my time was 0:24:40. So I was already 0:06:36 up on last year. Score!
Areas I could improve on:
- More swimming. I swim twice a week typically, and occasionally push that to 3 maybe 4.
- More sea swimming. This was my second time doing a real sea swim.
Swim->Bike Transition (T1)
This transition will be referred to as T1 from here on out (I'll get you all speaking the lingo in no time).
Last year I took me a whopping 0:11:35. All I remember was that I was wet and cold. I struggled to get my rain jacket on, struggled with gloves, struggled with socks (yes triathletes do wear socks...), struggled to get nutrition into my pockets, struggled with just about everything!
This year was a lot different. Still room for improvement, but I'm happy knowing I brought that time down to 0:05:40. Boom. 0:05:55 saved.
We're now 0:12:31 up on last year. That's amazing!
Areas I could improve on:
- Keeping my tools and nutrition on my bike. Getting those into your pockets is a lot of faff. A simple top tube bag or saddle bag would have saved me extra time!
Bike leg - 90km (56mi)
My biking ability is by far my strongest. I've been road cycling for around 6 years, raced crits (badly), I go on regular holidays to take on mountains, and I train with friends and colleagues. I'm not the most consistent at training, but I have a good base to fall back on here.
This year for the bike leg I opted to take my triathlon bike (those bikes with funny bars on, as my dad says), last year I opted for the road bike. This meant I was in a more aggressive, and aero position for the majority of the bike leg.
Weather-wise it rained both years. However, this year was much warmer, and this worked to my advantage. Last year I could barely shift gear from how cold my hands were! This year, I wasn't cold once. Also, I opted for no rain jacket, and no gloves this year.
The bike course at Weymouth is fantastic, it's hilly to start, but you can still gain some good speed throughout. It's a completely closed road which is a delight!
Start of the bike was great, I was feeling good, settled into a good pace and overtook a whole bunch of fellow age-groupers.
By the 44.5km mark, I was averaging 34.9km/h. By the end, this dropped to 33.6km/h. Last year I averaged 29km/h. So this was a huge improvement. Additionally, I've only been faster once over that distance and it was flat as a pancake.
Fueling wise I only had one bar (out of the two I packed), and I took on a big bite of a banana at the 2nd feed station.
I didn't take any extra water at the feed stations, I just carried 2 bottles: a carbohydrate drink, and an electrolyte drink. Carb drink first, electrolytes last. I found the carb drink sits heavy in my stomach, so it was important to finish this early as possible (without chugging it). I never finished my electrolyte drink, but this was probably a good thing. Last thing you want is to be running with a belly full of liquid.
With the bike course being somewhat not-flat, I was overtaken on a few hills. But I had a plan, and I stuck to it. As much as I wanted to chase people, I wasn't there to KOM a Strava segment, or to beat someone who's in a different age group to me. This was all about shattering last years.
My bike has a power meter fitted, which means I can at any given time see my absolute power output, measured in watts. This shows how hard I am pressing on those pedals. I used this to stay under and around my threshold power (which you can measure by doing a horrid 20 minutes all-out test).
Note: Power isn't everything. Always consider perceived effort. Otherwise, you'll get obsessed with numbers, and likely not progress at the rate you could. Consider other data sources too: HR, and perceived effort.
Despite being overtaken on climbs, more often than not though I was much faster at descending. I've raced the course before, I've ridden and descended mountains plenty and Bath is spoilt for hills! I know what I can handle, and I'll back off when I know I'm near my limit. This went back and forth with other age-groupers and continued for a good portion of the race.
I came in off the bike in 2:42:30. In 2018, the bike course took me 3:06:04.
That's 0:23:34 minutes better than last year. This brings my lead in 2018 to 0:36:05. Amazing.
Areas I could improve on:
- More consistent training. I was fitter earlier in the year.
- Perhaps eating more earlier on, I did eventually fade a little and eating that extra bar could have helped.
Bike->Run transition (T2)
Remember #weegate? Well, I got off the bike, and it struck me I still needed to go! I can't believe the entire bike leg I didn't even consider it. Nor in the swim or T1. Anyway, I decided it was best to do this now before I go run a half marathon.
Bike to Run transitions are pretty simple. Helmet off, bike shoes off, run shoes on. Hat/glasses if need be.
This year I rocked t2 in 0:06:45. #weegate slowed me down.
Last year though 0:07:02. So still an improvement!
This brings us to 36:22 up on last year.
Areas I could improve on:
- Arrive at race start earlier, and go for that goddam wee. Or wee in your wetsuit (not so sure about this one...).
Run leg - 21.1km
Weymouth's run course is along the coast, and it's pan flat. It's a 3.5 loop course, with two feed station that you'll pass 3 times per lap.
My run strategy was simple: survive.
I am not a strong runner. I picked up an Achilles injury back in Feb, which lasted nearly 3 months (my fault for not doing the rehab properly, and still doing bike training throughout). This meant I missed out on 2 races, and my run morale had reached an all-time low, so my running post-injury was cautious at best.
As I started running, I settled into a pace that felt easy and natural, but noticed I'd settled into a speed I knew I couldn't sustain. So I pulled back. First, 3.1km was clocked at 4:55min/km, at the 5.8km mark I'd dropped to 5:25min/km. Good, I calmed it down to something I knew was potentially within reach.
My splits worsened, as I grew tired. The sun had come up and I was beginning to feel the heat. Felt light-headed, and I opted to begin small bouts of walking. Each feed station I had already walked through (apart from the first lap), this was so I could take on water and gels and to help maintain my pace.
Encouragement from the crowd is magical, one woman shouted at me supportively to get running. Sure enough, I knew she was right and I pressed on. This is what I love about Weymouth, the crowd are fantastic. Kids wanting high-fives, or holding signs saying "press to power up" with a button drawn on!
At no point during this run did I want to throw the towel in, and at no point was I having a hard time. I remember smiling for most of it!
The last 3.4km I was pumped up and ready to go again. My pace picked back up, and I sustained 5:34min/km. I ran down that red carpet with a smile and a huge amount of relief.
I finished the run in 1:57:34. I've never run a half marathon on fresh legs. It's always been during a triathlon. So this was my first ever sub-2.
Last year it took me 2:12:39, so I'd gained 15:05 on last year here.
So now this brings us to a total gain of 0:51:27 overall in 2018.
Areas I could improve on:
- More training is the obvious one.
- More injury prevention. Prehab is the key to staying injury-free. So lots of strength & conditioning is going to be introduced to remedy this.
I finished the 2019 Weymouth Ironman 70.3 in 5:10:31.
2018 I finished it in 6:02:01. I number that had ingrained itself in me. I wasn't satisfied having gone sub-6.
I went from 114th in 2018 to 50th in 2019. I can say with confidence, that I'm seriously pleased with my time of 5:10:31. I knew what I had, and I feel like I delivered with what I had. No doubts, even if it sounds that way. I'm proud of what I achieved.
However... It raises the question of what does 2020 hold?
I don't think the day after a race is the time to answer that... but you can't stop your brain from wondering.
So currently there are my options:
- Enter Weymouth again. Go sub-5. Train seriously. Train consistently.
- Enter an Xterra (off-road triathlon). Drawback is I'll need a mountain bike as well as travelling to Europe.
- Enter Alpe d'Huez Triathlon. It's hilly. 3200m of climbing over 118km bike leg finished with 20km run after summiting Alpe d'Huez, with 340m of elevation.
- Drop down to Olympic distance (never raced that distance), reduce the pressure to train loads, and spend more time focusing on cycling for fun and socially (because that's why I got into in the first place.).
Question I often get: Will you ever do a full distance ironman?
My answers are typically along the lines of:
- Never say never.
- Not this year.
- Not next year.
- I need to work on my running before doing that.
Right now I'm firmly in the camp of never say never. 2021 perhaps who knows? I'll be 29, would be a nice way to finish my 20s after all.
Thanks for reading if you managed all 2,538 words of this!
Holla at me on twitter if you've got any questions.