Ironman UK 70.3 Wimbleball Race Report

Ironman 70.3 UK Exmoor from Yoke Creative on Vimeo.

A few members of my local triathlon club (Plymouth TC) raced in Ironman UK 70.3 last weekend at Wimbleball. Every single one of them put in a stunning effort just to finish the toughest Ironman 70.3 event in the world. The weather even came out to play just to make it a little bit tougher. One of them was kind enough to write it all up for me. His name is Mark Schofield, who has this to say about himself and the race:

I have always enjoyed running and endurance events, but ever since I completed my first Sprint distance triathlon in 2009, I have known that I had found the sport for me. Since then I have completed 5 Ironman 70.3s and 2 full Ironman races. Last year, I sneaked a place at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and July will see me pushing my boundaries at the European Ironman race in Frankfurt. In between training sessions, I am a full-time student doing a degree in Computing, and a certified expert at falling asleep with my head on the dinner table.

Had you asked me 5 years ago if I would do any of these things and call myself a triathlete, I would have said ‘never’, but as Arthur C. Clarke said:

‘The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.’ – Arthur C. Clarke”

Plymouth Triathlon Club

Paul V in action

Over the weekend of 15-16 June, 5 plucky (foolhardy?) Plymouth Tri-Club members went to Wimbleball on Exmoor for the UK leg of Ironman 70.3. The 1900m swim, 56 mile ride and 13.1 mile run are widely accepted as one of the toughest middle courses in the world.

At least it’s done in summer time, with dry weather and safe roads. Yeah, right.

Richard Jordan, Paul Vickers, Chris Agnew, Andrew Bamford and myself all duly arrived at the venue the day before for the pre-race stuff such as registration, organising transition bags and racking bikes. The pre-race brief was confident that the 35-40kmh winds blowing at the time would have subsided by the morning. There wasn’t much they could do about the rain.

Undaunted, the ‘glampers’ returned to their tents and wheelbarrows of pasta, while I sneaked off for a pub supper (yes, with beer) and the back of my car.

Inevitably the morning came too soon, with a 4.30am alarm to let me get into the car park before the hordes arrived. At least being forced to do most of the preps the day before means that the morning can be spent getting hydrated, fed, lubed-up and generally excited/worried. The number of people in transition who appear worried that their wheels aren’t round anymore and need to constantly spin them to check never ceases to amaze me. Once the music and commentary start at 6am, you can feel (and smell) a palpable increase in the competitors’ adrenaline level.

This year there were 1800 entrants, with nearly 1000 of those being IM virgins. There were nearly 300 in the M40-44 age group alone. The start was in two big waves, with the ‘young-uns’ and elite going at 7am with the more mature racers splashing off 15 minutes later. As a wave-2-er, that gave me nearly 1000 targets to hunt down. Good motivation if you can avoid the traffic jams.

On a grey but initially dry morning and following the National Anthem, each wave was invited down to the water. The PTC members gave each other a quick handshake and then we were off! The water temperature was just over 14C which made it cool, but not worryingly so. Like many others, I did my best to warm the water up a wee bit before we started. It’s hard to simulate a true mass start but thanks to all the coaching staff who have put us through our paces in recent weeks. Sighting, turning around buoys, deep-water starts, straight-line swimming through murky water, bilateral breathing, adrenaline fuelled starts – everything came into play. The same is true for the superb PTC bike coaching and track sessions – the coaches really have concentrated on helping us learn real-life lessons for races.

10 mins into the swim, my breathing steadied and I was able find my routine, slowly gaining on the weaker swimmers of the wave in front. From now until mid-way through the run, I would have no idea of where the other PTC people were getting on. Time to focus and run my own race.

Out of the water in 35 mins, my transitions are always sluggish. Over a long race, I am more concerned about being comfortable and effective for the next discipline than shaving a couple of seconds off here and there.

On to the bike and I chose to wear a full bike jacket. With air temperatures around 14C, rain forecast and a long way to go, boy did I turn out to be pleased with that decision. 30 minutes into the bike, the drizzle started. 30 more minutes and it became continuous rain. This made an already tough course, with several thousand feet of climb and descent, all the more interesting. Whilst numerous people had enforced stoppages, thankfully I only saw 1 bad crash, at the foot of a no-overtaking section of a steep hill descent where 3 marshalls had been pre-positioned for just such an outcome. Hopefully he was fine, as was the competitor who pushed his bike 17 miles after his chain broke!

I am lucky that my running has never truly deserted me at the end of the race, so I made the call to push hard on the bike and see what was left for the run. I finished the bike in 3h14m.

The run is decidedly cross-country at the best of times and seeing those ahead of me plastered in mud, I knew that this year would be no difference. There was far more support around the run course than there had been on the bike section and this makes a big difference when you’re cold, wet and tired. My concentration is normally pretty good when I have my game-face on, but this year it failed me in the final 50m of the race. I knew that I was finishing my third and final lap of the run course, but that didn’t stop me from trotting straight past the exit for the finishing chute and starting a 4th lap. Thankfully I realised within a couple of minutes but it still counts as a valuable and frustrating reminder that I have to keep my focus right through the finishing line.

Crossing the finishing line gave a feeling somewhere between elation and ‘a job well done’. I finished in almost exactly the same position as last year, albeit 20 minutes slower due to the conditions.

The other PTCers all came in with big smiles on their faces and a huge sense of achievement to match.

Our results were:








Liam Newton








Andrew Bamfield








Mark Schofield








Chris Agnew








Paul Vickers








Richard Jordan








There are some outstanding personal efforts in those results – not just for our own ‘top-dog’ Liam, but also for those undertaking an IM70.3 for the first time (but hopefully not the last!). Coming back to Plymouth, it was wonderful to realise the support and interest that the club had shown in the race – exactly what being part of a club is about. I’ve never seen so many Facebook comments posted so closely together!

That support really did help make the day, and none of it would have been anyway near as memorable had our partners, children, parents and friends not been around to cheer us on. Whether it was sharing the tent, cooking the food, allowing us the time to train and race or just supporting on Facebook, we really appreciate everything that you did to help make the day a very special one.

Mark Schofield

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