Coach Duncan.

I had entered this race back in 2014 but unfortunately some calf issues led me to pulling out. The family and I went down to watch the event basking in the blazing sun though, and instantly I was hooked. The moment the race for 2015 opened – I was in!

My training officially began on 5th January and continued pretty much on plan for the next 3 1/2 months. 2 swims, 2 bikes and 2 runs per week with the odd race and sportive thrown in for good measure.

At the end of April I switched jobs and unfortunately (for my training) ended up commuting back to London. This reduced me pretty much down to 1 of each discipline per week and I felt my fitness suffer pretty quickly. It was also the year of the 40th birthday party and (in some cases) weekends away and of course my own wedding planning. I was commuting part way on my bike though, so at least I was getting 6-8 miles per day that way.

With just 2 weeks to go I was contemplating pulling out again as I simply thought that I hadn’t done enough to warrant standing on that start line on 28th June. Luckily, following many discussions with fellow athletes, my physio, and critically by wife to be, I decided to re-evaluate my goals from the race and just go and give it my best.

My goals for the day were:

1. Finish!

2. Finish in less than 7 hrs if number 1 was possible.

3. Enjoy the day

4. Not come out of the other end of the race too physically ‘beaten up’!

 

We travel down Friday afternoon and spend Saturday in the sunshine; registering, swim practicing in the 18 deg. C. lake, joining the children in the ‘Iron Kids’ event, race briefing and sorting all of my kit out for transition. In the tent by 10pm to try to get some sleep, still really unsure what is going to happen tomorrow and questioning whether or not I am ready for this….

The 4:45am alarm goes off. I had checked it 10 times before I went to sleep to make sure I had set it properly! As I lay there all I can hear is the howling wind and rain outside and those nagging doubts are still in my head and this weather isn’t helping.

I get up, get out of the tent and find all our neighbours sleepily wandering around wondering what on earth they are doing too. I chat to a few ‘first timers’ who seem to be more apprehensive than me and I find myself giving advice and saying things like ‘just go and enjoy the day’ and ‘you’ll be absolutely fine, just don’t go out too hard’…etc. My own mind-set had changed too…….it’s race time!

Being over 40, female, or just not very fast, put me in the Second swim wave. This meant we got to stand on the slope and watch all the blue hatted competitors from the first wave walk past us and disappear into the water. One could ask to be moved into the first wave if you considered yourself a ‘serious’ athlete and were looking for AG qualification. These guys and girls did look serious and I was glad I had chosen to sit at the back of the class for this one!

At 7.10am it was our turn. I positioned myself in the middle of the pack and casually asked a couple of people what time they were hoping to get out of the water in. Both said “about 40 minutes” so I knew that I was in the right place. We entered the water and sculled for a couple of minutes before the gun went off.

The first couple of hundred meters of an open water swim with 900 people all trying to get to the same place is just about survival really. I just put my head down and tried to stay out of trouble and get to that first Orange buoy about 600mts away. It took that long to get into a rhythm and find some space but after the turn I could actually swim and put some of the technique practice to use! Over to the 2nd buoy and then it was the final 1/3 of the triangle back to dry land. I had thought that I would be happy with 40 minutes for the swim but as I exited the water I looked at my watch and it was showing 36 minutes! This was a pleasant surprise and I actually felt quite fresh running up the long hill to transition. Terri and the children were near the top of the hill and I managed to ‘high 5’ them on the way past which gave me a massive boost going into the bike leg. As we entered transition one of my fellow competitors said “well, that’s a 1/3 of it done” I liked his optimistic approach but I was thinking…1.2 miles done………69.1 to go!

Duncan_swim

If I had a pound for every time I had read or heard about how tough this bike course was I would have probably would have had enough enter the event for the next 10 years. It, of course, didn’t disappoint. Two loops with a total of 56 miles with 1,190 mts of climbing in the wind and rain awaited.

Even the transition mounting line was on a hill. There is a single track lane that exits the event village and is a slow and steady climb of a couple of miles.

A lot had been made of the drafting rules at the briefing but it was impossible not to due to the sheer volume of riders on the roads. There are 2 notable climbs on each loop but after the climb out of transition the following 9 ish miles are actually quite flat / downhill. Obviously, what goes down must come back up and vice-versa. The back 25% of the route is where most of the climbing happens but, on the first loop anyway, wasn’t as hard as I had imagined it to be.

I had targeted 2 hrs for each loop and completed the first in 1h 50min. I was actually feeling quite good and was ensuring I was keeping an eye on nutrition and fluid intake.

As the second loop started I felt as though I could get this done and was just focused on getting round, staying out of trouble (I have already witnessed 2 ambulances on the course) and pray that I wasn’t going to be another one of the 10+ cyclists furiously trying to repair punctures on the side of the road.

Second time round, the hills seemed about twice as high and twice as long as on the first loop but we all got stuck into them and there was some really good encouragement being shared between riders. I check my watch and we are at 50 miles. I am starting to struggle a bit now and the lack of bike training is starting to show. I know I can get through the next 6 miles but when I can hear the crowds in the event village (cheering athletes finishing!) It is a feeling of relief that I have managed to get through this bike section. T2 is relatively short in distance but I do take a bit of time to change my socks that are soaking wet and have been for the best part of 4 hours. Having dry socks and my old favourite running shoes on feels great. I feel quite emotional as 2 weeks ago I was thinking about pulling out of this race. I was now running out of T2 feeling ok and I knew that I could get through the next 13.1 miles. I can do this……!

One of the abiding memories of the day will be the exit from transition. As I ran out I was hit by the fact that the sun had finally broken through the cloud and the crowd that shout your name as you enter the run. Having your name printed on your running number is a great Idea and makes all the difference.

Whilst I had heard a great deal about how tough the bike was I don’t remember hearing about how incredibly tough the run course was! 2 really steep inclines awaited and over the 3 laps this equated to 280 meters of climbing. I knuckled down to try to get in some sort of rhythm but was soon reduced to walking at the bottom of the first climb about 2 miles in.

Working on my maths I figure that if I pick up my pace a little I could actually go sub 6:30 for the race and this would be a genuine possibility…..that was until the wheels fell off on loop 2!

So at about 6 miles in I started feeling genuinely terrible. I think I had tried to drive the pace too hard and whished the thought of sub 6:30 had never entered my head. Time to re-asses goals and remind myself that I was here just to finish this thing. I walked for a bit and then got to the next feed station. I have ½ banana, I cup of water, 1 cup of Gatorade, 1 cup of Pepsi and an energy gel. I then walked for about a minute and started to feel a bit better. Started to run slowly and then a bit quicker. I was feeling much better now and just targeted on getting round the last loop without stopping.

As I came back through the event village I saw Terri and the kids had moved themselves close to the finish line and my eldest daughter ran up part of the hill with me. This was a special moment for the day and drove me on for the next 3 miles.

Duncan_run

I dug deep and got round. Managed to run the last hill (that I had walked on the previous 2 attempts) and entered the small forest path that I knew would take me right this time onto the red carpet.

Duncan_finish

Of all the races I have done in the last 5 years, I think this gave me the greatest sense of achievement. As I collected my medal and entered the finisher’s tent, I felt quite emotional. 6hrs 38 minutes previously I was in the water not knowing what was going to happen to me that day. Here I was though, job done with a cup of coffee and hog roast bap in my hand reliving the journey with a fellow athlete. I had also achieved my goals for the day.

IMUK 70.3 was an amazing experience and that medal is now pride of place in my collection (sorry VLM 2011!).

Would I come back? Probably, but definitely with a lot more hilly miles on the bike in my legs. When you consider that the top five V40-44 guys were finishing in under 5 hrs 15mins, there would need to be a considerable improvement on the bike (and run) to be thinking about troubling any AG slots – roll down or no roll down.

Maybe a shiny new carbon road bike would help…….!