Race Update – Staffs 70.3, June 2017

Tom Hill

I was expecting big things from Ironman Staffordshire 70.3. Training had gone really well. Every box ticked, and I had been just about injury free for nine months. My nemesis, the swim held less fear than this time last year. I was faster and stronger and almost looking forward to it.

Race day. Beautiful weather. 8:00am and already 26C. Suited up, we headed to the rolling start. ……1.9km is a long way….. you have covered twice that, twice a week since September…. relax…… strong and long……. Technique! don’t fight it.

Off the pontoon and straight into the swim. The water is lovely, warm and clear. This is like swimming in France! 100m in and I am enjoying it, relieved and happy. Then my goggles start leaking. Not good. Don’t stop. Keep going. You only need one eye to sight. I felt my watch buzz ok about 500m. I wear (that is now past tense) Aqua sphere Vista goggles, which previously, I thought were great. One downside, as I was now beginning to understand is that when one eye fills with water, the slosh, as you turn your head to breath, eventually breaks the seal on the other eye. Not much at first. I am still remarkably calm at this point. Twelve months ago I would have had my hand up and quit. Okay when my head is down I can look forward and make out the blur of someone’s feet. I have never managed to draft before; now I have no choice. I started breathing every fourth and fifth stroke so that I could follow the fuzzy white things in front for all I was worth. God, I hope they are better at sighting than I am!
I had to stop at least four times to try and fix the goggles. Or as it turned out, empty them, for the next refill. One good thing about not being a good swimmer, is that each time I stopped, there was always a willing pair of fuzzy white things to follow.
Eventually, what I thought was the the hard part was over. I had conquered my fear and even vanquished a few demons. I did not care about the time. As it turned out, 50.5 minutes which is only five minutes slower than I had anticipated. Not bad.
My limited strength in this game is the bike and I was feeling good. I knew it wasn’t going to be brilliantly fast as we drove the first 16km on Saturday and it is very narrow and very technical and I knew there would be a lot of bikes in the way. The last 10km was quite lumpy too. In between, there would be some very fast sections. The bike went by in a bit of a blur. Heidi assures me it was a beautiful course. I do remember spinning out on a fast section and I have pretty high maximum cadence for an old bloke. I thought this is scary, I was going so fast that I did not dare look at the Garmin in case there were any road problems ahead. Looking at the file later, I can confirm that 74.1km per hour on a TT bike is very fast. 74.1 kph on a TT bike is scary, very very scary!
The approach to the bike finish passes the runners and something troubled me with the image. I could not figure out what it was at the time. I just remember thinking it was odd.
I flew towards transition and dismounted about 1mm before the line to a “you know what you are doing” from a marshall. (Shame you can’t get a podium for that. It was impressive).
Now the run. I was looking forward to this as I had been running five minute km off a 2.5-3hr bike and it was not difficult. I was aiming for 1:45 or better. You don’t realise quite how hot it is, when you are on the bike. The heat was intense. In T2, I struggled to put my shoes on, thinking ‘these are tight!’ Out of transition, I was passing dozens of people. What is going on? My feet were agony. It will pass, keep going. My feet are so painful, I have tears in my eyes. Why is everyone moving so slowly? Then before I know it, I am moving at the same speed! What is going on? Then I remembered coming in on the bike; people were hardly moving, somewhere between shuffling and walking. Why had I stopped running? A few hundred yards and running again but not as I know it. It was weird, my vision wasn’t very clear. I needed to drink. Every feed station, I had to drink water, pour water over head and body. Ice down the front of my tri-suit. I ran as much as I could, but do not remember a conscious decision to walk. It just happened. Chapeau to the locals who were out in force with garden hoses, water pistols, jugs and buckets. Without them, I would not have finished. I wanted to stop and quit every km of that half marathon. It was a battle like no other. I have never fought so hard to achieve something in all of my life.
I have competed in some pretty tough long distance bike events involving huge amounts of climbing and hundreds of kilometres; races even some pros don’t finish. Nothing comes close to yesterday.
My gold standard for yesterday was sub 5hrs 30min.
I swam 1.9km with my left eye closed and partial vision in my right eye. The run was the hardest thing I have ever done. I made it in 6hr 31minutes, more than an hour slower. But I did it! I was delighted to have finished. It was a massive victory and worth every painful step.

posted by Tom Hill on