Cotswold 226 Iron-distance. 9:44:16

Here we go then. Another 3am alarm call to stuff down some toast and a large espresso. Why do I put myself through this? I’d spent a nervous previous day watching weather forecasts and preparing wheelsets to cope with any eventuality but somehow managed a few hours’ sleep, a more common occurrence for me before a big event these days, maybe I’m finally getting a bit more relaxed about early morning starts. Decided to pack a jacket and gloves in T1 and stick my “training wheels” on the TT bike, with more robust tyres (and, as a plus, they don’t fill with water like my fancy HEDs).

Training hadn’t gone too badly. After London Marathon in April I’d been going OK but then two weeks before the English half-iron champs at Grafman I’d picked up an achilles strain which meant I missed that race and was a on bit of a downer. A couple of fast cycling TTs at 50 and 100 miles resulted while I laid off the running. I said to myself that if I could get back to a decent 13 mile run before this race then I was going to give it a shot. In the end I got back into my running although my achilles was as creaky as anything. The not-forgotten miles from London training brought some pep into my stride, at least. I managed a couple of 16-milers; not super, but enough to convince me I’d get round.

The rain hadn’t quite arrived as we racked our bikes. I could see Chris Goodfellow racking a few places up from me and saw he’d not made any concessions to the wet forecast – no spare bike clothes and his best carbon race wheels. After a quick race briefing we were in the water. I got “warmed up” and then swam over to the right-hand end of the start line for the shortest line out around the lake to the first buoy.

Swim

With only 190 people in the race, there was minimal biff off the start and I soon found a bit of space to sight the first dinghy we were swimming round (although without a few other feet to follow I think I might’ve got a bit lost on the turns of that first swim lap – maybe previous experience of a Cotswold113 event would’ve helped here). We quickly thinned out and I found myself in a group of four or so – Chris G and a few fast relay swimmers were out of sight.

I think I took the swim pretty easy but still managed to get a bit of cramp in a calf with the landing ramp in sight which just dropped me off the back of the group I’d been with. It was just starting to spot with rain, so I continued with my plan of putting a spring-weight jacket and some gloves on in T1. I have terrible circulation so although this carries a small time penalty and an aero-deficit, I knew it’d be worth it for my own comfort. Despite the faffing, I caught three riders within the first 10 miles of the bike ride, so I guess it didn’t cost me too much and I figured I must be well inside the top 10.

Bike

Most of the ride was on my own. I was riding along, aware that maybe I was putting out a bit too much power but actually not feeling too bad with it – I felt like I needed to work hard just to stay warm. The rain was really hammering down and there were some massive floods to ride through in the dips. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all at times. Nathan Blake passed me, riding back up the drag to Malmesbury at around 40 miles. He was going easily, spinning a big gear, and there was no way I was going to follow him. Shortly after, I caught and passed a woman riding for a relay team. The rain eased up along here and I started to actually warm up for a bit, but it was a short respite before storms returned on the second bike lap.

Out of Tetbury and up the drags through Didmarton I could see some riders ahead. They looked too close together to be triathletes (non-drafting race, remember?), but who else would be out in such foul weather? Eventually I caught and passed the tail-gunner of the group coming into Badminton, and then made a bit of an effort to close up to the other three. It was clear they were riding strongly although trying to keep apart. We had a bit of a comedy moment at the feed station in Sherston – the marshalls hiding from the downpour in a tent and then rushing out to pass us bottles stacked on the trestle tables. With 85 miles in my legs I didn’t have the strength to make a clean pass on this group (as Nathan must’ve done earlier), so I sat off the back reminding myself I had a marathon to run yet, ate the last of my flapjacks which had formed a nice mush in the bottom of my bento box, and a cereal bar I’d remember to tuck into the pocket of my jacket. Just after Malmesbury one of the three tailed off and I was able to jump past him as the rain bounced down and thunder bellowed from the skies, and slowly reel in the other two with a bit more effort. I had no idea what places we were racing for but I guessed top-10 at least. My fingers were quite numb and I was worried I’d not be able to tie my laces for the run.

Just as we got to Ashton Keynes we caught another rider but he had a high number so I guessed he was also a relay rider. I never quite made it back to the leading twosome, but I was very close to them coming into T2. I took off my gloves in the cruise back to transition revealing white, maybe dead fingers, oh no! Hope I’ll cope OK. And then I was out of my shoes and jogging to my run kit. There weren’t many bikes racked – maybe only four. Where was Chris G’s? It should’ve been a couple of places up from mine. The relay rider, having passed his chip on, was only too pleased to chat as I ditched my soggy bike jacket and tied my trainers – apparently he’d seen Chris at the side of the road with a puncture.

Run

Out of T2 and the girl passing-up gels at the exit shouted “5th” at me as I jogged by. “Cool,” I thought, “at least one of those is a relay runner”. I had a touch of washing-machine belly from the drink on the bike and as soon as I passed some bushes at the side of the lake, stopped for a pee. It just went on and on – evidently I’d drunk enough! Once I got going again I was soon reeling in the runner ahead, and passed him comfortably exchanging “good run” wishes as we crossed although the guy behind in a blue trisuit seemed to be catching me quickly. No matter, previous ironman experience meant I knew I had to set a comfortable pace and ignore those around me – the real racing wouldn’t happen until 10 miles to go. Looking at my watch I had about 3h35 to run to get under the magic 10-hour mark. It seemed doable if I kept my head.

Sure enough, the guy behind dropped away after 15 minutes and then it was just a question of counting those ahead as they ran back from the first turn-around and it was quickly apparent I was 4th, although one of those was a relay runner (in speedos!). Nathan had biked himself into the lead and the guy in 2nd was looking strong so my only concern was whether I was going to get caught. I just plugged away at around 8-minute mile pace and just concentrated on doing a good job of the run. Nice smooth stride, rocking the arms, head up. I passed 10km in around 51-something, no miraculous 3:26 Roth-style marathon run was coming here. A gel every half lap, washed down with some water or coke (at a walk). The week before I’d warned the president of my cycling club that the run turn would be practically outside the end of his street, and sure enough he was there to cheer me on. That was a bit of a lift, I think he was very impressed to see me up with the leaders.

The sun came out, and after a lap or so it was obvious that a smallish guy in a black trisuit was hunting me down. I wasn’t sure whether he was on the same run lap as me but it seemed likely – he had quite a few lap bands on his wrist, just like I did. A small tendon in one of the toes in my right foot was starting to hurt so I had to adjust my stride a bit – more heel striking than on my midfoot – not so comfortable. The wind got up and made the run to the far turn hard. But it was the same for everyone so I just made the best of it I could, although the wheels started to fall off my effort coming into the last lap and I just could not get my stride together (as an ex-rower I feel that form is everything – if you can keep that then everything else follows).

Cotswold226_1

Just about to turn around for the final lap (Photo thanks to Keith and Jenny Williams. More photos here: Flickr)

Into the last lap and I knew the guy behind was maybe only a minute behind me now. No more walk breaks, just keep moving, and a podium was in sight. Surely he must be getting as tired as me? Thankfully he was and although I only managed a jog up the finishing straight with arms half-raised he was still 23 seconds behind when I crossed the line.

Aftermath

It took me some minutes to get back to reality and realise that a few weeks after my 50th birthday I’d come third in an iron-distance triathlon. My cycling club president was keen to have a chat and get me some water and a few photos were taken, which was a welcome distraction while I came to my senses. I’d not had the presence of mind to pack a dry bag for transportation to the finish, so had to wait until I got back to my car for a change of kit but to be honest I was beyond caring. I was quite happy to sit and sip water. Eventually I managed to drag myself over to the waiting minibus transit and get a ride back to the start and my car, and bike, and then a steady hour’s drive home for a beer and a pie.

Massive, massive thanks to Graeme and the 113 crew who put on a great event, and to the marshals who stood out on the course in some quite frankly ridiculous weather. I tried to thank everyone as I rode round.

Race splits:
Swim 59:42
T1 3:38
Bike 5:17:08
T2 2:49
Run 3:20:59 (run short at 24.2 miles)

Total 9:44:16.6, 3rd overall, 1st +50 vet (full results here: DBmax)

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What next?

Obviously with splits like that, a few people have pointed out I would be fairly certain of an IM Kona slot in the M50 age group – that would be quite a dream. However getting to Kona seems to cost most people something around the £5k mark – burning up a lot of my savings, scary (but then, what are savings for? *evil grin*). IM Frankfurt would be a good place to start (they have five M50 slots, so that would leave a bit of breathing space in case, say, I punctured on the bike or had a meltdown on the run), but it’s sold out for 2015. There are still places left at IM UK 2015, but there they only have three M50 slots, and the first one will certainly go to Roger Canham, who’s a much better runner than me (although marginally slower in the swim and bike). Next year’s IM UK is likely to clash with the Mersey 24-hour, which is always good prep for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Complicating things is that I’m likely to be made redundant in February next year, that’s tricky and I ought not to be too distracted from finding gainful re-employment. 2015 is, of course, a Paris-Brest-Paris year, and I loved that last time around so ought to make the effort to do it again, meaning it’s likely I’ll do a low-key iron-distance race in the summer of 2015 (Forestman?) and then go for the whole M-dot ironman championships thing in 2016, and try to get a Kona slot for when I’m 52. I’ve just got to hope I don’t slow down too much in the next two years!

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