Ironman Wales Report and tips 2014

001Family

Family Lander Stow ensconced in the Clarence House Hotel, Tenby

I felt remarkably calm in the week before Ironman Wales. I had hit nearly every single training session bang on for the previous 8 months, except for a couple missed due to a cold in February, and I felt that I certainly had an “engine” capable of getting me through to the finish. There was no small amount of pressure on me as I was only planning on the single attempt, I was doing it for charity and I desperately wanted to finish. Read on to see how my day went, how I prepared, and also perhaps pick up a few tips along the way.

For those that don’t know: An Ironman triathlon is a race that involves a 2.4 mile open water swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon. You have to complete it by midnight and the race starts at 7am. Ironman Wales is based in Tenby and this was the fourth year that it had been run. I was doing this as a massive personal challenge but also to raise money for the Plymouth District Leukaemia Fund (PDLF). To encourage folks to donate a few extra pennies I wore superman pants over my wetsuit in the swim and donned my trusty harlequin costume for the run. If you like this article then please go to www.thelc.me.uk to see how you can donate to help our fundraising.

In the weeks before Ironman Wales I had a fit of faux affluence and decided to book the remaining family room in the Clarence House Hotel, right on the finishing straight of the race. Until that point we were going to camp  on the outskirts of Tenby, but with Sam’s (my wife) recent stem cell transplant for her leukaemia and our two young kids along for the fun it seemed prudent to ensure that we were comfortable. This was my one attempt and I didn’t want to ruin it by a couple of rough nights in a tent and a load of hassle to get to the start, especially if the weather turned out to be poor.

We arrived at the Clarence House Hotel on the Friday night after a four and a half hour drive, and unloaded the car into the room before moving it to the long stay section of the Tenby Multi story car park. Our little Hyundai i30 estate had done a passable impression of Mary Poppins’ handbag for the trip and it took me 5 or so trips to get it all empty and the bike stashed in the hotel lobby.

The day before

On the Saturday we went down en mass so that Evie, our 5 year old daughter, could register for Ironkids and I could register for the full event. This involved a lot more standing around than we anticipated, as we first queued for twenty minutes to get me registered, then queued for ten minutes to get Evie registered, then queued for forty five minutes to buy some Ironman branded goodies. The tills were excruciatingly slow due to the bad reception for the credit card machines. Finally we got back to the room at about 10:45 and I could start prepping my transition bags. I was meant to be racking my kit between 11am and noon, and my planned easy morning had now become a bit of a rush.

Tip: Arrive a couple of days before the race so that you can get your Ironman shopping and registration out of the way early. The less standing around you have to do on the day before the race the better.

In Ironman races you are given three bags for transition. One for T1 (Swim to Bike), one for T2 (Bike to Run) and one for after. In IM Wales you have a fourth bag that you take with you to the swim start as it is 1km from the transition and you need to have shoes ready for the run through. You can also get another bag to leave at the bike special needs station, but I didn’t plan on using that one and didn’t need it. Once you rack your bike and transition bags on the Saturday you can no longer access the bags before you are in the race, but you can get to the bike on the Sunday morning before the swim. I had already written a list of things that I was going to put in the bags, which was a good thing as my brain decided to pretty much stop working on the Saturday and every time I tried to think about race strategy I got the mental equivalent of an engaged dial tone.

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With bags and bike racked it was now time for lunch, so we walked into the middle of Tenby, found a sandwich shop and ate as simply as possible to keep my stomach in order. This wasn’t the time to be eating pub grub, or trying something new. I stuck to a ham salad baguette which, this being Tenby, was extremely cheap. We then wandered back to the hotel room to chill out for a couple of hours before Evie’s Ironkids race at 3.15pm. Sam and I both fell asleep on the bed while the kids played with their toys, waking up just in time to get down to the start of the race.

Evie’s race was a 500m affair and I had the joy of running it with her while Sam and Kristian waited at the finish line. Evie started at the back of her wave, but flew along and picked people off one by one for the whole 500m. All was going swimmingly until we turned the last corner and the wind blew her hair into her face. I pulled it out of her eyes and held it in a loose pony tail, so that she could see, all the way to the finish line. Crossing the line she got her Ironkids finshers medal to go with her Ironkids t-shirt and proclaimed that she could have gone much faster if she didn’t have to wait for Daddy….

Sam’s parents had turned up while Evie was racing and Sam took them off to see the sights of Tenby while I retired to the room to relax for a bit before the race brief at 5pm. The race brief was reasonably light hearted, but suitably serious where it needed to be. It kept everyone’s attention and we were informed of the key offences to avoid. The big ones that stick to mind are do not litter anywhere on the course, this includes discarding bottles. Littering was punishable with disqualification. And do not draft. Drafting was punishable with a 6 minute time penalty, or disqualification if you did it again.

Tip: Get to the Saturday race brief early as it soon becomes standing room only, and the day before the race you ideally want a seat. If possible attend the Friday race brief instead. You do not need to attend both.

After the brief I grabbed some simple food from town and then back to the room to put my feet up for the rest of the night.

Race day

I had slept remarkably well and was up at 5am (T minus 2 hours)to have a breakfast of muesli and soya milk with a strong coffee. While doing this I put on the gear that I had laid out while packing my transition bags on Saturday, and prepared the bottles for the bike. One of water, one with electrolytes only and one with 10 Cliff Shot gels dissolved into water. I stuffed four Cliff energy bars into the four pockets of my tri suit, picked up my things and left the room.

Tip: If it is likely to be dark either at the start when sorting out your bike, or at the finish, then make sure that you pack a small head torch. Using a portaloo in the dark isn’t much fun.

I put my pump, toolkit, Garmin 910xt, shoes and bottle onto my bike, powered the Garmin on, calibrated my Vector peddles, and then wandered off to join the portaloo queues. I eventually found one underneath a light, so that I could see what I was doing!

Next I checked in my white bag containing a few things for after the race, and made my way into the throng of triathletes waiting to walk down to the beach. A few moments later we were on our way and the extent of the crowds became apparent. There were people four deep lining the walk down and we could see them spread all along the clifftop overlooking the swim course. From up here the water looked pretty choppy, but not too bad. The skies were blue, the sun was rising and the moon was also visible. What a beautiful morning to do something bonkers.

As I got to the beach the tannoy was declaring that the warm-up was over and that athletes had to leave the water. I was slightly miffed as I wanted my usual pre-race pee in the sea. Instead I did the rather undignified thing of simply peeing myself on the beach. It is almost impossible to pee whilst actually swimming without looking like you need to be rescued. I was stood near the back of the mob of athletes to the left hand side, with pee trickling out of my ankle cuffs, ready to head straight towards the first turn buoy, but hopefully out of the worst of the melee. I couldn’t really hear the tannoy any more, although it sounded like the Welsh national anthem was being played. Suddenly we were off.

The Swim

As I waded into the water there were so many athletes that it was more of a walk than a sprint, much more sedate than I expected. As I got deeper it was apparent that the waves were much bigger close up than they appeared from the cliff tops. I had been looking forward to the swim, but a brief flicker of doubt crossed my mind. Pushing this back I dove forward and started to crawl. I say crawl, but brawl may be a better word for it. This was the infamous Ironman bun fight with hands and feet flying everywhere. Visibility under the water was nill and the only thing to do was push on as carefully as possible and hope that you didn’t pick-up a black eye or lose your goggles.

Sighting was tricky as you had to time it right or you simply couldn’t see over the next wave. The first buoy was about 400m (total guess) out but the tide was against us, as were the waves, and it was like swimming on a treadmill and going nowhere. I had ear plugs in which helped massively with the motion sickness due to keeping the cold water from sloshing in and out of my ear canals, but this was so rough I feared that normal motion sickness might get me. I needn’t have worried though as I adapted quickly. My stroke rate settled down, as did my breathing, and I settled into a comfortable pace, bilaterally breathing every three strokes and frequently sighting as the waves jostled me. At the first turn we had a bottle neck and everyone bobbed about for a moment as we went around, there was even some chatting which was a bit surreal. As we turned the water seemed to flatten out a bit and the tide started helping. This was the longest leg of the swim, but very easy to sight on thanks to the lifeboat house. It soon passed and I turned towards the beach. Soon I dashed around the Australian Exit (run up the beach, over the timing mat and back towards the sea), receiving cheers as people spotted my Superman pants, and dived back into the water again. The first leg was every bit as lumpy this first time round and despite the now spaced out triathletes I received a bit more of a battering. Someone solidly punched me in the back of the head, a foot connected with my left goggle, pushing it hard onto my face, and with 100m to go someone managed to kick me in the end of the nose.

Tip: If you get dizzy and nauseous while swimming in cold open water then try earplugs before you reach for the pills! Open water swimmers know to do this, but it doesn’t seem to have been picked up widely by triathletes.

Out of the water, wetsuit off, shoes on, and up the hill to T1. My estimated swim time was 90 minutes and it took me 95. I was very happy with that.

Coming out of the swim after the second lap

Coming out of the swim after the second lap

The bike

The Ironman Wales bike course is stunning, extremely well supported and also challenging. The first fifty miles take you on a lovely tour of the coast, out past Angle before heading back to Pembroke Dock and Lamphrey. Here you turn and head cross country and over quite a few hills to Narberth before heading back to the coast, through Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot before hitting Tenby again. Next you loop back through to Lamphrey and repeat the Narberth – Saundersfoot Section.

My plan for the bike was simple. Stick to an average power output of around 180W, eat solid food for the first four hours in the form of Cliff bars and then tuck in to my bottle full of gels for the final three hours, giving me a seven hour finish time. Straight away my stomach didn’t feel right. Unusually it wasn’t my upper intestine that was the problem but my bowels, they felt really uncomfortable on the bike. I pushed on to see how it would develop and my pacing was spot on as we rolled along the coast to Angle. I would cruise past people on the flat and downhill sections, but some would catch me up on the hills. I refused to be drawn in and didn’t want to blow my legs up by pushing hard on a hill this early on. I saw many people gasping for breath though and pushing really hard. They were going to have an extremely long day! Inevitably I eventually overtook all of the folk that were already gasping, although a few very powerful riders did cruise past me and steadily pulled away, pacing themselves correctly.

As we went through the first check at Angle I contemplated the portaloo, but there was a queue so I didn’t stop. I swapped my bottle of water for another and carried on through. As we climbed out the headwind hit us as we crossed the exposed hilltops. The course was fairly flat, and I continued pacing myself into the wind, overtaking rider after rider as I did so. When I got back to Lamphrey I felt good and my average power output was showing as 187W. Throughout all of this time I was appalled by the amount of litter that had been dropped by athletes, and also at the amount of athletes that I saw persistently drafting. I had one guy try to stick on my back wheel and I’m afraid that I wasn’t very polite to him. If you draft then you are cheating yourself and the other athletes. Don’t do it or you risk that six minute penalty and potential disqualification.

After Lamphrey the real hills started to come, and also the awesome descents. There were a few really good ones and I made up places on those too. On one occasion I heard a rider come up fast behind me as I entered a steep downhill left hand bend. I was going quick and it sounded like this was going to be messy. I pulled in, slowed some more and looked back. He was on the outside of the road and struggling to scrub off speed as he went into the gutter. I have no idea how he remained upright, but he just about pulled it back and carried on. What an idiot, going far too fast for the conditions. Unfortunately I know of a female cyclist that was taken out during the Challenge Weymouth event on the same day by a rider behaving similarly and she was badly injured at no fault of her own. No race is worth endangering your life and other peoples, especially as none of us were exactly racing for the win!!!

Tip: Work on your bike handling skills. Being a fast but safe descender makes up a lot of time and doesn’t cost you any energy expenditure.

The hill in Saundersfoot and up to New Hedges was simply awesome with people crowding the road and cheering. It didn’t hurt that the race leader was only a mile or so behind me and the crowds were out in force. I didn’t know he was there until he whooshed past me on the outskirts of Tenby. I whizzed across the double roundabout in Tenby, slamming the brakes on as a cyclist swerved out in front of me, at which point the bottle on my bars ejected itself onto the road. I wasn’t in a place that I could safely stop and retrieve it, so I carried on with no water.

At this point my brain was getting very fed-up with cycling. My backside was getting a bit sore from the saddle, my neck was stiff from the aero position and even my right index finger was sore from the gear changing. I couldn’t wait for the next thirty or so miles to be over so I could get off this infernal two wheeled contraption. I moped along to Lamphrey, my output wattage average dropping from the big climbs and descents, and here I finally stopped. My bowels couldn’t wait any longer. I spotted an available portaloo, perched the bike against it and dashed inside. It was clean, thank goodness!

Cue whistling, some humming and a few other noises that I shant describe.

I was in that portaloo for five minutes according to my Garmin, but it was worth every second. I felt much better getting back on the bike, grabbed another water bottle and I was off. My brain started to settle down and was no longer protesting so much. I paced myself around the climbs again and could enjoy the descents even more this time around, now that I was familiar with them. By the time I got back around to Tenby I was enjoying myself again and looking forward to the run.

My guesstimate for my bike time was 7 hours and I had finished the bike in 6:58:29. According to the results I had overtaken 400 people. Don’t think that I am a good cyclist, I am fairly average, but my swim is disproportionately slow compared to my cycling and running abilities.

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The run

I didn’t rush the second transition. I put my harlequin outfit on, ate a honey stinger bar and visited another portaloo. My bowels still weren’t right, but that wasn’t going to stop me. As an ultra marathon runner I wasn’t about to be daunted by a simple 26.2 miles, no matter how much my intestines were objecting.

As I ran out onto the course the roadside crowds were again four people deep. They saw my costume and they went bonkers. I couldn’t keep the grin off of my face. It was awesome and I didn’t see a single other person in fancy dress

Tip: In an Ironman the run is all about what is left after the swim and the bike. People often push too hard on the bike and suffer a poor run because of it. Unfortunately the Wales course really lends itself to this eventuality due to the nature of the bike course and the location of the worst hills, so you have to be really careful.

I had been racing now for nearly nine hours and the pros were just finishing as I started the marathon. How awesome are the pros?!? For me I wanted to finish in under fourteen hours, but I didn’t once look at my watch to see how I was doing. The available time left to me didn’t matter in the slightest, the only way to get an optimum finish time was to look after my body’s needs, pace myself and keep moving forward. I would finish when I could, worrying about the time wouldn’t make me any quicker, but might force me into a pacing error and make me even slower.

Worryingly I was told on the run that a friend of mine had cut the swim short, doing the first lap only and heading back up to the transition. He was a slower swimmer than me, started behind me and was already worried about beating the cutoff, and that was before we saw how choppy it was. This was really worrying, but I also heard that he was on the run course, which was a little confusing. I would see him on later laps of the run, but we were going in opposite directions, so I didn’t have time to chat with him.

I walked each aid station and ate what I could. It was on the second lap that I polished my strategy. I would walk the quiet uphill stretches with few spectators and the aid stations so that I could shovel in flat coke, bananas and mini pretzels. This gave me the energy to put on a show in my costume for the spectators on the busier sections, high fiving everyone, grinning like a loon and hopefully looking like I wasn’t suffering too badly. Tenby itself was exhausting and amazing. The crowds were simply epic, and all the kids wanted a high five. As the evening went on, and the beer flowed, more and more adults wanted high fives too. I passed various other members of my tri club, both those competing and those in the crowd, it was great to see the friendly familiar faces. We were all in this together and there was no option but to drag ourselves to that finishing line.

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The run was four laps, with bright bands given out each time we went through New Hedges. The colour band denoted what lap you were on, so you knew who you were lapping and who was lapping you. I spent quite a lot of time running with Anya, also from the Plymouth Tri Club and in her first Ironman. We chatted and joked as we went to keep our minds off of those body parts that hurt, which was pretty much everything. Triathlon doesn’t tend to leave a muscle group unused!

The sun was now vanishing and the roads getting darker. I went particularly slowly on lap 3 so that I would have some energy to put on a bit of a show for the final lap. It was time to pay back some of the crowds enthusiasm and high fives. The runners that had more than one lap to go were given flashing LED bands, to keep them visible in the dark. Generators and lights were also moved out onto the remote sections so that it never got too dark for too long. I pulled myself together, grabbed the light blue band for the last lap and started to skip. Anywhere people cheered me I tried to wave, skip and high five. They loved it and their enthusiasm kept me going. The final leg through Tenby was simply epic, the crowd went extra mad as they saw me come through for the final time.

As I emerged from the town walls it was time to turn left and onto the finishing leg instead of right and onto another lap. I ran down the finishing straight high fiving anyone that I could reach and as I reached the red carpet I paused, took a deep breath and began to skip, pointing at my number to ensure that I got:

“Richard Lander Stow YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”

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To be honest the announcer seemed a touch bewildered at the clown skipping down the red carpet and he only just seemed to get it out 🙂

I crossed the finish line in thirteen hours and fifty two minutes, 8 minutes under my target time, and with a grin on my face that I am still wearing four days later. I spotted my wife almost immediately and sent her off to get me a large portion of fish and chips. Oh, and I spent 17 minutes in portaloos. Stupid bowels!

A small present that my wife bought me after the race.

A small present that my wife bought me after the race.

Training

My training for Ironman Wales was a mixed bag as I was doing ultra marathons earlier in the year and didn’t solely focus on Ironman until early June. To help me through this I enlisted the help of experienced triathlon coach Neil Scholes of Kinetic Revolution. I had some lofty goals and very little spare time in which to achieve them. Over a nine month period Neil took me to a level of fitness that I have never managed to achieve before. On an average training week of just 9.5 hours he made me a better swimmer, cyclist and runner than I had ever been, let alone all three at the same time. There were some simple rules that I stuck to in my training though, see if any of these might help you:

  • Consistency. Do all of your training sessions. If you are tired or poorly then modify them to suit, but do something if you can. If in doubt then rest and see a doctor though!
  • Recovery. If a training session is meant to be easy then ensure that it is. This is so that when you get to a hard one you can go hard.
  • Enjoy. I tweaked all of my training sessions for my own enjoyment. This meant that runs were mostly on trails, bikes rides were on my turbo (sorry, but I am perfectly happy riding on a turbo trainer!), and outdoor swims were spent exploring places with outdoor swimmers and not spent doing drills. I kept those for the pool which I visited when it was quiet so people didn’t get in my way. Do what works for you.
  • Injury. If you start to get an injury then sort it out and see the right kind of specialist. I am lucky as I have an awesome sports therapist in Kelsie Peters, and when I had an issue I used all of my connections to get the right treatment. At one point this led to me travelling up to London to visit Jonathan Bell, orthopedic surgeon at the Wimbledon Clinics and then Claire Robertson, a physiotherapist specialising in patella femoral pain, also at the Wimbledon Clinics. This was worth the time out as they specialise in seeing athletes and it helped me get to the root cause of some chronic knee pain that had been getting worse and worse over the last few years. I am pleased to say that after taking their advice that I had no knee pain during Ironman Wales, and my knee is improving all of the time.
  • Specificity. Swim like a triathlete, cycle like a triathlete and run like a triathlete. You are not a swimmer, a runner or a cyclist. You are a TRIATHLETE!
  • Be wary of doing things “like a pro” or using kit that a pro would use, unless you are a pro or potential Kona qualifier!
  • If this is your first Ironman then do not be too specific about setting a time goal. My primary goal was to finish with a vague thought at the back of my mind that it would be even nicer to finish in under 14 hours.

If I was doing another Ironman then I would start looking towards a better time goal and I would make the whole previous twelve months of my time dedicated towards achieving it i.e. I wouldn’t confuse the training by mixing in ultra marathons. I would also give myself a couple of years to hit my time goal, so that if I fluffed an event it wouldn’t matter and could be worked into the plan. I would never be specifically trying for a Kona slot though as that requires more training time to achieve than I have available to me. Whether I actually get around to another Ironman is up for debate as there are so many other interesting adventures out there that I want to have first.

My last training point is that you cannot blag an Ironman. You need to put in the miles, work on your weaknesses and turn yourself into a machine capable of completing the race. If you do find yourself in a position that you can’t finish due to a timing cutoff then man-up and accept that, don’t cheat. Don’t draft, don’t make illegal progress etc etc.

Pacing

I recently wrote an article on Ironman Pacing which I stand by and worked for me. You can see it here.

What’s my next goal?

You may have noticed that I planned on Ironman Wales being my only Ironman for the time being. This is because I have different goals for next year and will be heading into ultra marathons in a big way. I want to qualify for the North Face Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc and to get there I need to get points in qualifying races. I shall be running in the 81 mile Oner in Dorset in April and then the South Downs Way 100 miler a couple of months later if I can get an entry. If I complete these in the time limits then I will be able to enter the UTMB ballot for 2016. If I get a spot on my first try (fingers crossed) then I will be running the UTMB in the year that I turn 40. After I achieve the UTMB then maybe I will return to Ironman, but I may move on to something a little more different, a multi day desert race perhaps.

My equipment

  • Wetsuit: Zone3 Vision as a rental from www.wetsuithire.co.uk – Very happy with this suit and much more comfortable than my old Orca S4 or Foor Classic
  • Bike: Felt B16: The cheapest TT bike I could get which I then added Garmin Vector pedals to. I then had a “proper job” bike fit from Paul at www.rideplymouth.co.uk which was worth every penny as it increased my efficiency massively. I really like this bike and rate it as excellent value for money. I find it comfy and have had no problems with it.
  • Helmet: Giro Air Attack. I love this helmet. It is so quiet and efficient to ride in, it doesn’t get too hot due to effective venting and is aerodynamic in just about any position you can put your head in while cycling.
  • Wheels: Nothing special. Whatever came on the Felt. They go around in circles
  • Tyres: Continental GP4000S. Always. My favourite tyre with amazing all round grip, low rolling resistance and awesome durability.
  • Tri Suit: Orca 226 Kompress two piece. Very comfortable, has four streamlined pockets and I love using it, although it does have a tendancy to flash my belly button squeeze a small roll of tummy out the gap at the front as the top creeps up. No issues at the back as it is tailored properly for the bike.
  • Sunglasses: Sundog Triathlon. Excellent value for money, very comfortable and durable.
  • Running Shoes: Nike Free 5.0. I simply adore these with their 8mm drop and supremely flexible soles. They are my go to shoe for tarmac events and have been for some time.
  • Fancy dress outfit: www.joke.co.uk – Thanks for sending me a free outfit. I couldn’t wear the full thing on the day as it was too warm and I had to substitute from a lighter costume. The quality of the costume that you sent me was great though and it will be used again in the future.
  • Nutrition and Hydration: Cliff Bars, Cliff Gels, Powerbar Isotonic from aid stations, Bananas, Flat coke, and a few small pretzels.
  • Hydration system: Horizontally mounted bottle between aero bars and two on a mount behind my seat. I wouldn’t change a thing about this setup as it worked brilliantly for me

Oh, and unless otherwise mentioned I paid for all of my own kit.

Of the above I cannot think of anything that I would really change. The next biggest aero advantage I could get would be from aero wheels, but the cost vs the benefit is simply too high. I could do much better simply by doing a bit more bike training.

Thanks and apologies

Thanks to Tenby and Pembrokeshire for letting 2000 tunnel visioned triathletes stomp around your beaches, towns and countryside. You did an amazing job of supporting us and Tenby remains as my wife’s favourite holiday spot in the UK. We will be back at a more relaxed time.

Thanks to McCaulays Health Clubs for supporting me throughout my training over the past two years. You have been ace and very accommodating, not to mention your great facilities at Ivybridge.

Thanks to Plymouth Triathlon Club for putting up with me over the past couple of years and extra massive thanks to those that weren’t racing but came up to support the club members that were.

Thanks to Anya for running with me for part of the marathon and putting up with the idiot in the clown suit for so long.

Well done to all PTC members that finished and apologies to Paul Vickers for what I called him just after he lapped me on the run 😉

Thanks to all the people the greeted me with a high five. According to Newton’s Third Law a high five should infinitesimally slow a runner down, however I have found that the massive positive mental energy burst far outweighs the negative result of the physical energy transference.

Thanks to finisherpix.com for some awesome photos. Any that you see of me racing are taken by them unless otherwise mentioned.

And finally

Please don’t forget to donate a little to our cause, particularly if you enjoyed reading this, or liked my costume on the day of the race. www.thelc.me.uk or donate directly at uk.virginmoneygiving.com/richls

And: Why aren’t Ironman branded mugs as endurable as Ironman athletes? I bought two and it turns out that the handle on one of them was only held on by the paint that coated it…

To the questions that I was asked during the event:

  • No, the superman pants wont slow me down, nor will they fall off in the swim
  • Yes, that was MY red bottom bobbing up and down in the sea
  • Yes I am having a laugh
  • Yes, I am still smiling
  • No, I don’t have a fecking joke for you
  • I was a harlequin, jester would do, but certainly not a joker. Joker was a batman villain with a penchant for purple and lipstick
  • To the guy sat out near the New Hedges turn around: I love you too.
  • No, the hat isn’t too hot, it actually wicks sweat away rather well. The rest of the outfit is equally comfy and I have run 44 miles in it before without a problem.

Please do share this article if you liked it. If you have any questions then please get in touch.

The time is nigh! Ironman Wales 2014

Ironman Wales 2012 Start Panorama

Ironman Wales 2012 Start

Well, the time is upon me. After two years of contemplating and planning for it Ironman Wales is finally here and I will be racing on Sunday as number 1047.

For the past 10 months I have been coached by Neil Scholes of Kinetic Revolution through two ultramarathons and now into Ironman Wales. My main goal was always Ironman Wales, and the ultramarathons just a bit of fun to see if I could. Here is an email that I sent to my coach yesterday which gives an insight into my frame of mind this week.

I am really looking forward to it. I am utterly confident that I can do the distance and that I have done the training (and race practice) to get my pacing spot on. I also know that if things go a bit wrong then I have the capability of easing off, eating, drinking, recovering and then picking up the pace again.
A large part of this confidence comes from the training that you have set out for me for the past 9 months or so, and with the two half iron practice races in the bag, I know what I’m going to take, eat, drink, wear etc.
I have also put myself under no pressure to finish in a particular time and my main goal is to finish and feel that I have paced it right, overcome any issues and got to the finish line.
I was feeling quite hammered after the last few weeks of training, but my energy and mental freshness, for want of a better phrase, have been building throughout the taper as they should.
My knee is also feeling better all the time after dedicating some daily time to the appropriate stretching and strengthening as well as a regular application of frozen peas!
The weather forecast is the icing on the cake, and it doesn’t hurt that people keep telling me how fit and Ironman ready I look.
Did I mention that I can’t wait? So excited that after two years of thinking about it that it is finally here. 🙂

Finally here is a bit more about why I am doing this in the first place. I originally posted this on my personal Facebook page earlier in the week.

On Sunday I will be competing in the biggest race of my life. Ironman Wales. It is twice as long as any triathlon that I have done before and I have been in hard training for it since the end of last year. At 7am I will start swimming with nearly 2000 other people from Tenby in south Wales and wont then stop until I have swum 2.4 miles, cycled 112 hilly miles through the Welsh countryside and then run a marathon on the streets of Tenby, Athletes must be finished by midnight, which gives a cutoff time of 17 hours. I am hoping to finish a bit sooner than that, but in this kind of event you never know what obstacles you may face from jellyfish to punctures to cramp and worse. I will be doing whatever it takes to get to the finish.

I am doing this as a massive personal challenge but also to raise money for the Plymouth District Leukaemia Fund (PDLF). To encourage folks to donate a few extra pennies I will be wearing superman pants over my wetsuit in the swim and then donning my trusty harlequin costume for the run.

Nobody chooses to have cancer and the poor folks, like my wife, who have leuakaemia and have to spend months in a small isolation room deserve all of the support that they can get. The PDLF support the Birch and Bracken haematology wards and in turn the patients themselves, massively improving their quality of life as well as their chances of survival. Please donate what you can as you never know when you or a loved one will need such a high level of care.

Please share this and support us in our fundraising by clicking on the following link and donating a £ or two.

uk.virginmoneygiving.com/richls

Thank you all for any support that you have given me and thanks to everyone close to me that has enabled me to do this and all of the training for it despite everything else. Also thanks to www.joke.co.uk who sent me a new harlequin costume to race, you can check out their awesome array of Halloween costumes here. Stay tuned for a write-up after the event with lots of pictures.

Ironman pacing for the beginner

Ironman Wales 2012 Start PanoramaI am about to do my first full Ironman and I thought that some of you might be interested to know how I have come up with an Ironman pacing strategy. I have learnt a lot about pacing from doing a variety of long distance events from cycle sportives to triathlons to ultra marathons and the right pacing strategy can really make your day whatever your level. I also pay for one to one coaching and my coach, Neil Scholes of Kinetic Revolution and Performance Edge, has also been instrumental in getting me into the right frame of mind to avoid disappointment on the day.

For your first Ironman you may have fantasized about qualifying for the world champs at Kona, but let’s be realistic, that is highly unlikely to happen. To achieve such a feat you will have to treat your training plan with military precision and dedicate a year or two of your life, at least, to making it a reality. As a first timer you really need to forget about all of the other athletes out there. At your core you have one goal: To complete the Ironman within 17 hours and hear Mike Reilly declare “you are an Ironman” as you cross the finish line. I would also add that you need to have a bit of fun along the way. If you aren’t having fun and this is your hobby then perhaps you need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and think about why you are doing this.

Primary goal: To complete the Ironman within 17 hours and hear Mike Reilly declare “you are an Ironman” as you cross the finish line.

With your primary goal set you will no doubt have some further expectations on what you can achieve during the swim, bike and run. I would suggest avoiding setting a time expectation as this can easily be thrown out simply by the course being long or short, or the weather being too hot, too cold, or too windy. For the swim I have one goal and that is to finish without unduly tiring myself out, so that I am in a great shape for the rest of the race. Did you know that pushing too hard on the swim may not show so much on the bike, but can significantly harm your running pace at the end? Nobody wins an Ironman in the swim.

Swim tip: Wear earplugs. Most people don’t get seasick in the swim, they just think they do. Most of the time it is the cold water sloshing up and down your ear canal making you dizzy and then sick. Fixed easily and cheaply with earplugs.

You will spend around half of your time in an Ironman on your bike, so hopefully you have spent at least half of your training time on your bike? Pace the bike right and you will have a great run at the end of the ironman, but get it wrong and the marathon will turn into a painful 5-6 hour run/walk/crawl nightmare. This means that you need to start the bike easy and let other folks whoosh off. This is hard to do, but there is plenty of time to catch them later.

If you train with power then your Ironman pace on the bike should be around 65-75% of your FTP (Functional Threshold Power) which you should be able to maintain fairly easily all of the way around. Avoid powering up hills i.e. large spikes in your power output and just ride your own race. The chances are that you will see those folks powering past you now in the run later.

If you train with heart rate then the book “Going Long” by Joe Friel has a great table on bike pacing in it (pg 318 in the 2nd Edition). It also has a load of other good information as well and is worth a read. As a rough guide you should be in zone 2 (aerobic endurance) for the most of it and keeping the exercise as aerobic as possible.

Bike tip: Focus on nutrition and hydration throughout the bike. You need to finish it as well fuelled/hydrated as you can and that means consuming 300-350 calories an hour of something you know that you can digest. You are aiming to start the run as fresh as possible.

Once you get off of the bike you should feel tired but capable of still running a marathon. Here is where pacing the swim and bike right will pay dividends. Many people will have gone too hard and will be feeling awful, it’s just that quite a few of them may now be in front of you. Don’t worry about that as you have 26.2 miles to catch as many of them up as you can and once they start walking you will steamroller on past them.

Start the run as you would any marathon, easily. Focus on your form and cadence, but don’t worry about your speed as you settle into it. Keep the legs ticking over and keep moving forward. If you start to slow then pop a gel in, and remember to grab a mouthful of liquid at each aid station. Swish it around your mouth and swallow. Slow slightly while you do it, then pick the pace back up again. You will still be going fairly slowly, but your rate of perceived exertion will be high due to the swim and bike that you have done beforehand. Just keep moving forward. Focus on the next person in front of you and slowly reel them in. When you overtake then move onto the next one. Steep hill? Feel free to walk, I do, and when you get near the end you will understand why. Now you’ve got to mile 20, and surprise, the wheels haven’t fallen off. You are still creeping forward, you are still overtaking people. You only have 10km, 6 miles, to go. If you feel up to it, now you can start to pick up the pace. This is the point where I start to high five marshals, you should have been high fiving spectators all the way ;). Focus on the next marshal, run to them, high five, move to the next one. Pick those heels up, push those elbows back. Keep moving forward. It hurts, but who cares, you are about to finish an Ironman.

Finally you will see the finish, and as you cross the line: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

Now look at your watch. I bet you did better than you were expecting, and it was all down to good pacing. If you get it wrong and a man dressed as a harlequin overtakes you in the last twelve miles, then that’s me, so please do come back here and make a donation to my chosen charity. The link is on the right of the page 🙂

On Sunday the 14th September I will be putting my reputation on the line in Ironman Wales, do come back to Bike Run Swim to check out the race report.

Please note that there are other factors to finishing your first Ironman well. Amongst them is your food and drink, doing the right training, keeping your bike fettled, a smattering of good luck etc. But once those are all lined up then the pacing is going to make the biggest difference to your finishing time and enjoyment on the day. Come back and let me know how you got on. What worked for you and what didn’t?

 

Hever Gauntlet Half Iron Distance Triathlon Review

Hever Gauntlet Finishers Medal

Hever Gauntlet Finishers Medal

I’ll cut straight to the chase: This was the best organised triathlon that I have ever competed in. All aspects of it were well thought out and all elements of the course took you through stunning surroundings, from an interesting lake/river swim then then through the best that the Kent countryside has to offer on the cycle and then through the grounds of both Hever and Chiddingstone castles on the run. What more could you ask for?

What is the Hever Gauntlet?

The Hever Gauntlet in 2013 was the first Half Iron distance triathlon at Hever Castle to be held as a part of the Castle Triathlon Series. Half Iron distance involves a 1900m swim, a 90km cycle (56 miles), all followed by a half marathon run. There were 400 people signed up for the race and 274 people managed to finish it with yours truly coming in 127th at 6 hours and 23 minutes.

The course

The swim started in the lake in the grounds of Hever Castle and the route had been well dredged beforehand. It went straight down the lake for 600m before turning back on itself and entering a tributary of the River Eden. Here it wound through the countryside for around 900m before returning to the lake and the climb out.

The cycle departed the castle grounds within a couple of hundred meters and then commenced two laps of a 45km course, taking the competitors through some of the best that the Kent countryside has to offer. It is a rolling course without any sustained flat sections, and quite a few long ascents, with one gradient of 13% and the highest point being just over 700 feet and a total of 4800 feet of climbing.

The run started with an uphill which was particularly punishing on tired cycling legs. It then departed the grounds of Hever Castle and headed over to Chiddingstone and Chiddingstone Castle before returning and spending some time wending through the beautiful grounds of Hever Castle. Again it was a two lap affair, but it was most enjoyable. The first half being rolling and the second half being mostly flat.

My race

This section includes my account of the race, from my training and preparation through to the race itself and my thoughts afterwards.

My week before the Hever Gauntlet was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster ride. On one hand I couldn’t wait to let the brakes off and get into the race, but on the other I knew that my training had been far from triathlon focussed. In fact I had been enjoying my running so much that I had changed my goals for the coming 12 months and in the run up to the Gauntlet I had done pretty much zero cycling and running. You see, I had decided to take ultra running seriously for a while and that I would try to qualify for the 100+ mile Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. My first qualifying run would be in March 2014 so I had taken August off from specific training to rest before starting to build up my running mileage through Autumn and winter. In short I hadn’t done the cycling and swimming necessary to be competitive in a half iron distance triathlon and I was nervous! Anyway, you don’t care about my excuses, so onwards with the tale of adventure and daring do…maybe not so daring.

Swim Start

Swim Start

For the swim we were instructed to line up across a very wide starting line. It was ample for all of the athletes and really reduced the impact of so many starting together. The first choke point would be the turn at 600m before entering the narrow tributary to the River Eden. Despite all of this space I had a guy to my right that was determined to cut left as soon as possible, so after the swimming equivalent of a slap fight we swapped positions and swam on. I have a tendency to swim to my right, despite bilateral breathing, so I sighted often, an art which I feel I managed to master on the 2.2 mile Plymouth Breakwater swim in August. I am a slow swimmer, but thanks to some one-on-one sessions with the head coach at my tri club my technique is much better than it used to be. In fact my swim time of 41 minutes was 6 minutes faster than I expected which I put down purely to technique and good pacing.

At the turn I executed a neat barrel roll at which point a breastroker that I had caught through managed to use my chest to kick off with, temporarily stalling me. It didn’t hurt and made me laugh. I actually quite enjoyed the rough and tumble of it all and seemed to manage to hold my own for the most part. The next choke point was the entry to the river. We were warned not to cut any corners as we would stray from the well dredged channel and end up beaching ourselves. Here things got a bit rougher as the swimmers came together, but my slow pace soon meant that I had mostly clear water and to be honest the battering that I was giving and receiving in equal measures prevented me from dwelling on the distance. I even remembered to look around occasionally. Finally as we came past the Logia we could see the Olympic swimmers being briefed, and then I was being helped up and onto mostly dry land.

The Bike Start

The usual disorientation struck as my blood pressure struggled, but I managed to overtake 5 or six people in the dash up the slope. The organisers had put carpet on the rough sections and it was all gentle on my bare feet. I had noted my bike position in line with the portaloos and a black Wiggle flag, so I found it straight away. Many bikes were already missing so I pulled my helmet and gloves on and was soon running down the funnel. I passed the mount line, leapt on the bike without slowing and got my feet onto my shoes. The elastic bands snapped and I was away….at least I should have been away. Instead I stalled after 100m as I failed to get my left foot into my shoe. I opted to stop and sort it out rather than wobble around dangerously. Soon sorted I continued, still feeling a bit disoriented, but gradually getting into control. There were a few well marked speed bumps to get over and an enthusiastic grabbing of the brakes meant that my back wheel stepped out around one of the damp corners. I took this as a warning while simultaneously being surprised at just how effective the brakes are on a proper triathlon bike. This was my first race on it after picking it up a couple of week previously, and I had only spent 3 hours on it over three different turbo sessions. Most of which was a bike fit with Paul from www.rideplymouth.co.uk, which was well worth the money.

Out of the castle grounds we turned left and straight into a climb. It wasn’t steep, but I was disappointed to be grinding up it in a low gear. My heart was racing away, my legs were hurting and my lungs were rasping. I briefly felt dismayed before slowing down and reminding myself to settle in and take it easy. There was a long way to go, so I let the people around me go and started to settle in to my own pace. The Gauntlet route was much hillier than the Olympic route and in my new TT position I found that I would frequently catch people up on the flatter sections and the descents, only to swap places again as we would go into the next climb. After half an hour I was drinking well and pushed down an energy gel. I was starting to feel ok. The hills meant that I was able to move around, so my body wasn’t actually hurting too much with the unfamiliar aero position. What a difference it made though. Despite the lack of power in my legs I sailed past a few people that were clearly struggling into the wind, yet I had no such issue.

The highest point on the ride was also marked with a feed station. There were lots of volunteers at it handing out bottles, but I waived them away as I passed. I planned to use them on the second lap. I had just emptied my aero bottle, so I took my second bottle from its cage and attempted to refill it. I managed to dump most of the fluid over my handlebars. Maybe I should have practiced that manoeuver? I sighed and carried on. A few miles later and after the steepest climb on the course came a deceptive downhill. It was fast, but I could see a bend ahead that looked to tighten and I could see the surface was damp so I slowed down. On the outside of the corner I could make out a triathlete lying under a coat, with his bloody bald head sticking out. He was surrounded by people and I really hope that he was ok. Just as I thought this a car pulled out in front of me and I found myself pulling on the brakes as hard as I dared. I just missed the back of his car. He got yelled at, no swearing, just an exasperated yell of “COME ON!” Cried in a tone which I hope conveyed “What the hell do you think your doing?” The driver looked at me without a hint of shame and waved an apology. I carried on.

All of the junctions on the route were marshalled and the police had been involved which meant that the organisers could stop the traffic. This was wonderful. There were tonnes of marshals around and I didn’t have to stop at a single junction. Another great piece of organisation. Soon I came to the point where we rejoined the Olympic Distance cycle route. There were plenty of fast people whizzing around it, but I was also pleased to note that I overtook quite a few as well. Before long I was into my second lap, but by now I was out of water and there were 10 hilly miles to go before the feed station. This was entirely my fault due to the earlier water spill, so I didn’t let it worry me and I carried on. I kept putting the gels in at 20 to 30 minute intervals regardless and hoped that when the dehydration caught up with me that it wouldn’t ruin my day.

By the time that I got to the high point I was feeling really thirsty. My cunning plan was to ditch my bottle into the waiting net, grab a bottle filled with something isotonic, drink a few mouthfuls and pour the rest into my aero bottle. It went pretty smoothly this time around with barely a drop wasted. I had also managed to swap my ropey old Specialised bottle for a nice new High5 bottle. Result! Boy was I thirsty though and I felt bad. I slowed down a bit more and my average dropped from 16mph to 15.8. It did give my body a chance to digest some food and absorb some fluid though, so I did start to feel better for a few miles.

This good feeling lasted until about three miles to go when I bonked. This is cycle speak for hitting the wall or running out of energy. I felt sick and dizzy and started to feel a bit panicked, after all I still had to run a half marathon. I looked down at the bag on my top tube and pulled out the one item of solid food that I was carrying. It was a Blueberry Crisp Cliff Bar. I opened it and started to chew. Normally I find them delicious, but my body was rebelling and each bite took an age to chew and swallow. While doing this I finished off the last of my water and finally managed to get it all down. I span a low gear, waited and hoped. Gradually I started to feel normal again. That was far too close for comfort.

As I turned into the castle grounds I pulled my feet out of my shoes and pedalled back over the speed bumps. Having my feet on top of my shoes enabled me to smoothly transition to running though and I overtook a few more people as I ran to rack my bike. Hat off, gloves off, shoes on, baseball cap on. I was away. It was quite a large transition area, but I was pleased to see that I managed both T1 and T2 in around 2.5 minutes each.

The run start

For those of you that haven’t done a triathlon it is easy to be dismayed at how horrible your body will feel when you start the final section of the day. You have usually been on the bike for a while at this point and your blood is flowing to all of the wrong places. The answer is to practice it with brick sessions in training and then to go easy on yourself for a few minutes in a race to let your body adapt. For me it took about three miles, and then I started to feel like a runner again with my pace going from over 9 minute miles back to 8 minute miles. I slowly started to reel people in, both Olympic distance and fellow Gauntlet competitors. This was more like it. I chatted to a few people on the way as it is a great way of distracting yourself from the task at hand, and it really passes the time. That and everyone is interesting. They all have their own tale which has resulted in them being here and competing in this particular race. I was dismayed to find the second water station on the run route had run dry though. Was this a chink in the organisers extremely co-ordinated armour?

Into the second lap I was feeling comfortable and I was running alongside another Gauntlet competitor. He was a local and he pointed out things of interest on the way such as the Chiding Stone, which I never would have spotted otherwise. He also seemed to know everyone and was getting some massive cheers. I was pleased to see that the second feed station had been restocked (well done!) and was into the last couple of miles when my back decided that it no longer wanted to play. The muscles that had been stressed and stretched by my wonderful aero cycling position finally had enough. I was running like a had a steel rod instead of a spine and I grovelled over the final hill and couldn’t even muster the most pathetic of sprint finished across the line.

Six hours and twenty three minutes of racing. I had got the end of my first half iron distance triathlon and it was a corker! I stuffed my face with food at the finish line, put on a warm layer and headed over to the BBQ tent for a burger. I had just burnt around 7000 calories.

The finish

Conclusion

I was really pleased with my result especially as I have only cycled 300 miles since the 1st July, and my time in the water has been poor to say the least. I would definitely recommend this event for a triathlete of any ability. Throughout the Saturday there were kids races and then on the Sunday the adult races with everything from sprint to half iron distance. The campsite was just a field, however the temporary toilets were very much of the luxury variety. There were also warm showers, a free post race massage for Gauntlet competitors, and plenty of goodies in the goody bag.

If you want a spectacular triathlon in a stunning location then I cannot recommend the Hever round of the Castle Triathlon Series enough. If you want the extra challenge and also to see the most of the countryside and get the best experience then take on the Gauntlet. You wont be disappointed. I also hear that next year there may be a full Iron distance race, which should be stunning.

Thanks to my Dad for coming with me to the event, supporting me through it and taking the pictures, which will be uploaded soon! Thanks to Alan for the swim coaching, Neil Scholes for the running form work and Paul from Ride Plymouth for the awesome TT position on the bike. Of course thanks to all my friends and family for supporting me and thanks for the encouragement from all the like minded nutters in the Plymouth Triathlon Club.

For more you can go to the event organisers website here: www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk

400 Set to take on the Hever Gauntlet (Including me!!)

IMG_4045 - gauntlet400 set to take on The Gauntlet at the Hever Castle Triathlon

–          Last chance to enter all levels and end your season at the iconic event

With just three weeks to go, the organisers of the Hever Castle Triathlon are getting geared up to welcome over 5,000 competitors including 1,200 children and 400 bold participants taking on The Gauntlet.

The Gauntlet, is the new half iron distance race (1.9km swim / 90km cycle / 21km run), that is attracting serious triathletes from across Europe to race around the scenic Kent countryside, including the 13th world ranking triathlete, David McNamee. McNamee comments on his shift to a longer race distance; “I’m very much looking forward to taking part in the Hever Castle Triathlon. It’s exciting to go into a completely new style of racing, with no expectations, just to see how I fare over a different format.  I have never even been on a time trial bike so post London World Championships I will be jumping on one to get as much practice in as possible. No matter the result from what I have heard from other athletes I am in for an enjoyable day of racing at Hever Castle”.

The Saturday afternoon will see parents covered in goose bumps as they cheer their children on. With 1,200 taking part is likely to be the largest children’s triathlon in the world and will include lots of siblings and school classes racing together. Many children have claimed that London 2012 motivated them to take part and pay tribute to the Brownlee brother’s performance. Schools will have the chance to win an Inter Schools Tournament Trophy.

Media are excited about the growing event with Channel 4 sending a camera crew and helicopter to take in the action. Footage is due to be broadcast on Channel 4, Sky Sports and Euro Sports.

The Hever Castle Triathlon is part of the Markel Castle Triathlon Series which is increasingly well known for the beautiful venues and scenic grounds, held at iconic castles across Europe, promising a high quality triathlon festivals and race for all levels, from first-timers and children, to elite performers. Last year the Series attracted over 8,000 competitors including Olympian Tim Don and this year it is offering even more to appeal to fans and new followers.

Spectators can enjoy a festival atmosphere at the event village whilst they watch the races, including archery, live bands, refreshments, hot air balloon, bouncy castle and access to the castle grounds (Adults pay £5/children aged 5 – 15 pay £3).

Competitors can enter an event by visiting www.castletriathlonseries.co.uk, calling 01892 870681, or for more information follow us on f: Castletriathlonseries or @CastleTriathlon. 

HeverCastle