Last Sunday I took part in the Ironman 70.3 at Weymouth. Having done a handful of middle-distance events in the last few years (Grafman, Woburner, Centurion) I’d previously resisted the lure of the Ironman brand – mainly due to the cost - but Weymouth ticked a few boxes for me. The sea swim was a big attraction, the closed road bike would be great and the seaside location meant I could conceivably sell this to the rest of the Honey household as a late season family minibreak.
Although I signed up as soon as entries opened last November, it was still a fairly wallet-sapping £220 (plus £17.50 “processing fee”) but I was keen to see what the market-leading triathlon brand would deliver.
I’d booked a caravan at the Weymouth Bay Holiday Park for the weekend and we arrived on Friday night. After ticking off the Weymouth Parkrun first thing on Saturday, the rest of the day was largely taken up with registration, race briefing and racking my bike and kit in transition. The first thing that struck me about an Ironman event is the sheer numbers involved. It was a sellout event and there were almost 2,600 participants registered so, rather than the race briefing being a few minutes of tannoy announcements before the swim, it took up a full hour in a packed-out Weymouth Pavilion and there were three sittings scheduled to ensure that everyone could attend. Despite the bad weather forecast for Sunday (heavy rain and 40 mph winds) the organisers were confident of delivering a full distance event and this seemed a reasonable assumption at the time given the calm seas in Weymouth Bay.
Setting up in transition was a bit more complicated than usual with three bags to pack – blue bag for cycling kit (and packing your wetsuit into post swim), red bag for running kit and optional white bag for post-finish clothing. Anyway, by 5.00 pm I was done and headed back to the caravan park to relax and have my evening meal.
On Sunday morning my alarm went off at 4:30 and at 5:15 my very understanding wife Tanya drove me down to within walking distance of the start. It was a cold and wet morning so, with no danger of overheating, I was already wearing the legs of my wetsuit. After putting my bottles on my bike and an unnerving experience trying to use a portaloo in the pitch dark it was still only 6:30 and I had a least half an hour to kill, so I spent a bit of time on the beach familiarizing myself with the swim entry and exit. Around this time it was announced that the swim was being cut by half to 950m as the weather was expected to worsen later in the morning. The start was also being put back 20 minutes to 7:30, so I had the best part of an hour to try to keep warm. Luckily, I had a waterproof in my white kit bag so put that on and sheltered behind a wall where I ate some flapjack I had been saving for after the finish. Around 7:00 I took my place on the red carpet on the beach. There was a cold wind blowing and, as we huddled together to keep warm, I was reminded of the penguin episode from Frozen Planet. Eventually, it got to 7:20 and the pros set off into the water and shortly afterwards we started to shuffle along the carpet to the start.
After all the waiting, it was a fantastic feeling to be finally be running down the 10 metres of shingle into the surf and even better to find that the water (16.8 °C) was considerably warmer than standing on the beach! Despite the limited sea training I’d managed (one swim on holiday in Portugal and another near the Mumbles) I really enjoyed the swim, although the swell meant that the red buoys we were swimming towards kept bobbing in and out of sight. As we were entering the water four at a time and it was self-seeded according to estimated finish time, the swim never felt too congested even at the turn points. However, half way round the heavens opened and you could see the rain striking the surface of the sea.
Exiting the swim, I felt pretty good but the rain was coming down steadily so, entering T2, I decided to put on all of the gear I had packed – socks, cycling top, arm warmers, gloves and waterproof jacket. Whilst T1 was in a large marquee there was standing water on the floor which made a mockery of my attempts to dry my feet but, after a fairly leisurely 11 minutes, I headed out onto the road. Once outside I was glad of the extra layers. Although I was already wet, the waterproof was an effective windbreak and helped to retain body heat. The initial section out of Weymouth was largely uphill and helped to warm me up. However, with the rain coming down in torrents and streaming down the road, it was already apparent that this would be day for survival rather than recording any PBs.
Out on the road I was struck by the large number of punctures. Fixing a flat in the driving rain looked a miserable experience and I was very thankful for the brand new set of Conti 4 Seasons I’d fitted a couple of weeks earlier. I also saw at least two riders being tended to by medics as they had crashed off the road and several more huddled in space blankets waiting to be picked up. I read later that former Olympian Will Clarke suffered a puncture whilst leading the pro race but, in the 7 minutes it took him to repair the flat, became hypothermic and had to withdraw.
Given the cold, I spent a lot of the ride trying to eat as much as possible and managed to scarf down a couple of Clif bars, plus a couple more Enervit bars I grabbed at the feed stations. However, my usual snack of honey roasted peanuts proved a bit too fiddly as I began to lose feeling in my fingers.
Eventually I was glad to arrive back into Weymouth in just under 3 and a half hours and headed out onto the run.
The run course is pretty much flat and consists of 3 and a half laps up and down the Weymouth esplanade. I’m not a great runner and so kept to my usual “strategy” of starting slowly and then getting progressively slower as the distance increased. During the first lap, conditions started to improve and the sun even started to shine! Most of the run course is through the town and there were a lot of supporters lining the route, which lifted your spirits especially when you heard your name called out (it’s printed on your race bib). Although there were a few low points on the run – especially around the 15-17km mark – it was good to see fellow club member Nick Clarke on the course and I got another big lift when I spotted my wife and daughter Gemma on the final lap.
Eventually I was on the red carpet and running under the finishing arch to collect my medal. My time of 6hr 47 min was a bit slower than I had hoped for and I finished 1,443rd out of 1,876 finishers (which included fellow Tri-Forcer Barbara Baker). However, given that over 700 of those on the start list either DNS or DNF I was pleased to get round. Many thanks to all the club members who wished me luck before the event – it was a great motivation to keep going!