Member Paul Blackmore

Ironman 70.3 Or half ironman, 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.3km run.

The phone alarm goes off at 0420, which is ridiculously early for a start time of 7.32. But I’m here in the U.S. with some friends, some of whom this is their first ever ‘half’. And despite my words of advice and reassurance that you only need 10 minutes in transition before they kick you out shortly before the first waves starts at 7, this falls on deaf ears. All the what ifs are brought out and I back down quite easy knowing I was a wreck before my first important race, which was so long ago I’ve forgotten what it was, but not how I felt.

So in my motel room, I first put a cup of water in the microwave which is soon a delicious cup of tea, followed immediately after by an equally delicious bowl of instant porridge, stolen from breakfast the day before. Other stolen items I look at but in the end decide to eat a raspberry pastry which after spending a day in the fridge wasn’t as good as I thought it might be when I stole it. I stuff all remaining evidence in my race bag.

At 5 I poke my nose outside into the dark. As expected its raining. Not hard. But it’s warm. It’s been high 20s which if sunny was going to make the day very hard. But there didn’t seem much chance of that. There’s a gang of six of us racing with coach Sam supporting. My ex teammates from the UK Alex and Naveen, and their teammates Lara, Dan and Jean…who’s French, but he seemed a nice guy. They all live in New York. We gather around the cars, decide who’s going in what car and head off, for the 20 minute drive to the start.

We have to queue for a bit to get into a huge field which is event parking. Huge because Americans have huge cars….trucks, which are also awesome at the same time. We park at 6am and then sit in the car for 20 minutes, as the rain steadily increases in intensity. Alex talks about heading back to New York, Naveen gives us regular weather updates, trying to convince us that by 7 it will stop raining. We all get out and head towards transition across a muddy field.

My front wheel is fitted with a slightly iffy tub. It’s leaking air from somewhere and is completely flat when I get to it after pumping it up the day before. I pump it up as hard as I can, despite the damp conditions, and we all meet up again at the traditional triathlon pre race briefing – the queue for the portaloo.

Finally 7.32am arrives and I’m off. I’m in the 45-49 age group start wave, split into two as there is so many of us. I’m not the most confident in the water so do what I always do and start to the side and near the back. But as we kick off I soon find clear water, some weed and a little confidence. I move over to nearer the buoys and look for some feet to draft. I make a little effort to catch someone 10 metres in front but soon give up and start following a guy who was probably trying to do the same. His feet are going like an out board motor so I figure he’s going to be knackered come the bike. We start catching blue hats from the wave before then silvers. It’s getting a little congested but being faster I plough through. I feel I’m swimming ok and just focus on my stroke. It feels like a good swim and is over sooner than expected. I run out of the water, peel off the top of my wetsuit and reach the volunteers. I realise this is actually what I should be doing in future. Helping people pull their wetsuits off. I sit down, throw my legs in the air and in no time at all my wetsuit is removed for me. These kids are having a lot of fun and I’m gratefully as, wetsuit in hand I continue the run towards my bike. 1.9km’s done in about 31 mins.

Next 90kms on the bike. As I run out of transition bare foot I turn the Garmin on and check I still have air in my front tyre. All good and just like a pro I jump onboard the Boardman and I’m off. The course is mostly uphill for 20kms then fairly flat after that. Driving it the day before I figured it would be relatively fast, not like the energy saping courses I’d done in the previous two months.

Americans have an extremely annoying habit of saying what first comes into their head, which, as with most of us is not worth saying. We think but we choose to stay silent. Alex was told ‘where’s your helmet dude’ as he road through the car park the day before. I mean just mind your own business mate. I was told ‘nice bit of drafting man’ as I kept to the 5 metre rule on my way up the hill. You know what, I’ve got 90 kms to do, if I can get away with drafting then I will!!!

I soon get to ride with two other guys, sharing the pace. But we keep our distance which meant I was having to work quite hard. But with 25kms to go we split up, me at the back. We’d past loads, like hundreds of people, which was fun, but now I was beginning to feel the pace. I was kinda fed up. I wanted to get to the run bit. I was then past by what I guessed was the leading two from the wave after me, the 45-49 H-Z group. Basically my rivals. So I followed them and we caught loads more. But it didn’t last and then I got caught by a woman!!! I had no shame and just glued myself to her wheel for the last 10k. Finally I got to transition.

I pride myself on a fast dismount, so fast I sometimes scare myself! This was slightly downhill and as I jumped off I kept my hands on the brake and the bike almost catapulted over my head. It didn’t, drama over, nothing to see here, I ran into the soggy field to find my running shoes. Always forget to stop the Garmin, thank you for auto pause. 2hours 29 minutes. I down a gel, grab my hat as clouds were brewing and stumble off to run.

I’ve experienced two emotions in the 70.3’s I’ve done before. 1: oh I feel ok and I’m running well. 2: oh I feel knackered and this is going to be hell. This was no.2. First thing that annoyed me was running past the finish area into a field. There might as well have been real cows and bulls in it so long was the grass, instead of a red bull tent. And it was muddy. This was an Ironman event and I’m running around a field. I walk up the steep short hill in a wave of depression. On reaching the road, I break back into a jog, lots of people here cheering everyone on. I find my rhythm and start running at a reasonable pace. The run course, I soon discover, is the hardest one I’ve ever done. We drove it the day before so I knew what to expect. As you run towards the turn, past the feed, you start a long steep hill, with a flattish bit in the middle. I maintain an ok pace up the hill, compared to others, in that I’m still running. Around the turn and I pick up speed back down. The first bit is ok but the second part of the descent is fast and I let rip as that’s the only way to run downhill.

As I make my way towards the end of lap 1 I start to get a pain in my left hip. I think I may have over done it on the downhill. Alex gives me a shout as we pass each other, I wonder if he’s in fact up on me, him starting half hour after me. I get a little lift passing by the finish but that soon evaporates as I trudge through The Field again, walking again, this time more depressed knowing I’ve got to do all that again and now in actual pain. Heartbreak hill arrives again and I start walking early. In previous races I’ve had the mental toughness to battle through tiredness and pain. Keep going because it will get better, even if that’s at the finish when I stop. But not this time. I start running again after the steep bit of the hill but it’s at a much slower pace. I’ve given up on the dream of a top 5 in age group.

Running back down is very painful and during the 2 mile flat bit back to the field I have to stop again and stretch out my left leg which is hurting in more areas than just the hip. Finally I pull myself together, ignore the pain and run home, disappointed to have run badly but pleased to have finished my 3rd 70.3 this year. Under the clock I see I’ve at least broken 5 hours. At the beginning of 2015 I didn’t even want to race or train, so to have come this far, to have found this distance as something to motivate me, I’m grateful, because in the end, despite the pain and the general knackered feeling after, there is a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement. For anyone who completes the distance.

After I just drink. Water then coke then Gatorade, which is huge over here. I hear Alex’s name called. He’s completed his first 70.3 in just over 5 hours. And once he’s regained consciousness says it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done. Everyone is pleased. Naveen goes under 6, the French guy does well, just over 5.

It starts hammering down with rain as we retrieve our bikes from transition, my tyre flat as a pancake, and we wade through puddles and the muddy field back to the huge car we have hired. My first race in the U.S. is over, don’t think I’ll do Syracuse again but who knows what’s next.