Early start from our Travelodge, and we were in the car for the 22-mile drive to Wimbleball by 5:20am. There was quite a slow queue of cars for the last bit to get into the car park, and there were a few nervous triathletes hopping out of their cars, wetsuit in hand, to walk across the fields to get to the start. It didn’t seem too bad though and in fact we got the car parked with a good 40 minutes to spare – plenty enough time to walk to the lakeside, use the portaloo (no queues!), get my wetsuit on and ready to go. I relaxed by telling myself that this wasn’t an important race – I was just seeing what the M-dot experience was all about.
I said goodbye to Jules and as I wasn’t sure it was an in-the-water start, I pushed my way to near the front of the bunch, ready to get in the water. Turned out it *was* a water start, so once I was in the water I spent 10 minutes floating about near the start line buoys, treading water like mad to keep warm, and then we were off. I sprinted like mad for the first couple of minutes to get clear of as much trouble as I could and then settled down into a steadier rhythm, off to the right hand side of the leaders. Rounding the first turn after a couple of hundred metres, I found some great feet – this guy was pounding the water like a ship, I could hear his foot strokes underwater! I followed those as best I could. It was very tricky to sight the far turn buoy as the sun was right in our eyes, but once we were there I lost those nice fast feet in the mayhem and swam the rest of the way back to the shore on my own, with someone on *my* feet. Out of the water, I glanced at my watch, 31-something, about usual for my half-ironman swims.
There was a long uphill run out of the water to get to transition. I peeled off my wetsuit and jogged up the field with everyone else, and although a few guys seemed intent on sprinting up there I saw no point in getting too het up with a long uphill drag to come on the first bit of the bike course. Transition was a controlled rush for me as usual. Worried about the mud underfoot at the bike exit, I’d packed my cycling shoes into the transition bag to wear straight away. There was a helper here who very kindly scooped up my wetsuit, hat and googles into my transtion bag, and then I was off to collect the bike. Jules gave me a cheer from the barriers as we exited transition, I tried not to look too nervous, and then clipped in and we were off.
The bike course is devilishly hilly, but we’d driven it the day before on the way back to Taunton so I knew where the trickiest bits were going to be and where I could use my TT speed to good effect. I overtook quite a few people on just the climb out of transition, but after that settled into a steadier pace. It was very quick around the back of the circuit, but once we’d done the one tricky descent at about 13 miles (not good for me, my TT bike has a very poor, but very aero Shimano AX brake on the front), there was a whole sequence of nasty climbs, all marked on the map with chevrons. My bottom gear of 39×25 got a lot of use here – I was trying to just calmly spin up these climbs, without blowing up too much. I think it mostly worked because on the flatter sections of the next lap I was able to push on a bit and overtook quite a few people. I still struggled with those same climbs on lap 2 though.
It was a great relief to descend back to the lake and get ready for T2. I was out of my shoes before the dismount line and quickly jogging into transition where my bike was taken from me (nice!). I struggled to remember which rack my “run” bag was located on and that wasted a bit of time, but managed to get socks and shoes on OK while a helper took my bag and bike helmet off me. A few easy strides and then I was out into the run.
Straight away onto the uneven surface my back locked up. Jules was here, cheering me on and I tried to look good and stride out for the camera. I felt bad though, my lower back was killing me and I was still a little bloated from the drink on the bike (although I knew that feeling would quickly pass).
Once we’d done a loop of the field and were out into the trees and the climbs, I was stopping every so often just to stretch my back, try to bend it a little. Every footstep was hard work – I was in a lot of pain. It didn’t help that my shins were feeling a bit sore too – they’d been a little stiff in the previous week but I’d largely ignored it as they usually just ease up. I began to doubt whether I’d be able to manage much more than a hobble to the finish line (I was determined to finish, come what may), but over the undulating surfaces back along the lakeside after the run out on the dam wall and back, my back started to ease up and when I got to the next feed station after about 2½ miles I had a realisation that I was in nowhere near as much pain as just a couple of minutes earlier. I started to stride out more confidently.
I think I ran the second lap a bit too hard as a result, but it was great to be suddenly back in racing mode, picking off slower runners ahead and weaving though people who were a lap (or two) down on me, trying to guess who was in my age category at each out-and-back turn. Numbers 1005 and 456, who had both rather disappointingly just run away from me when I was going through my bad patch at the start of the run, looked about the right age, but later turned out to be in the 40-44 age group.
One last big effort from the last turn, up a grassy, uneven hill and I was sprinting, zig-zagging through lapped runners. I came up on a guy who looked over his shoulder at me (I was breathing pretty hard), he upped his game and started running hard. I had his measure though and got past just before the finish chute. I’m no sprinter but I put my head down and ran as hard as I could on that lovely red carpet. Just as well, he *was* in my age group and (a day later) I found I’d just beaten him for the win, by 7 seconds! The 3rd in my category came in soon after, another 19 seconds back.
There was time after to shake hands and compare notes – we’d been neck-and-neck the whole way round. I saw Emma-Kate Lidbury (ex-Oxford Tri, now a pro-triathlete) in the finish area and had a little chat to her, congratulated her on her fine win. We grabbed a welcome cuppa from a takeaway van and when transition was open, I collected my bike and transition bags and we headed for home to beat the rush out of the muddy field that was the car park. I didn’t want to stay for the presentation of qualification places at the Ironman 70.3 world championships in Las Vegas in September, as I’m not interested in travelling there.
Ironman UK 70.3 (1.2mi/56mi/13.1mi), Wimbleball. Hard, HR148(164)
Swim 2000m/31:59 (1:35.7/100m)__ HR138(150)
T1 4:30 (long run)
Cycle 92km/2:54:41 (31.6 km/h) __ HR147(163) ascent 1430m
[Halfway splits ~ 1:27:48/1:27:57 ]
Run 21.1km/1:39:15 (7:31 min/mi)__ HR154(164)