Ironman Loop

I’m not doing Ironman UK this year (or any year), but when the legendary Chris Wild organises a gentle recce of the loop, it’s rude not to go. I’ve done the loop a few years ago when it was three laps, but I’ve never done the newer two lap version, plus, I’ve never done the final section into Bolton. As an added bonus, my beautiful wife Helen wanted to come along, even though she also has no plans to enter IMUK either, or any ironman race.

Nine of us set off from Queen’s Park, which is the new location for T2 instead of the Reebok Stadium, and gently headed out of Bolton along the main road, all the way to Adlington and Babylon Lane. This section of road has the noisiest fans you’ll find anywhere on the course, mostly from COLT (The City of Lancaster Triathlon Club). The photo below makes it look like a large hill, but I guarantee on race day you’ll fly up it.

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Yesterday, it didn’t look like this. After Babylon Lane the first tester of the day arrives in the form of Sheephouse Lane. Again you’ll find noisy supporters near the top, many dressed at masked Mexican wrestlers (?). It’s a long climb, but the steep sections are fairly short. The descent is safe-ish as well. Into Belmont and it’s a fast main road for the next few miles, followed by another main road, which isn’t really conducive for a group of nine triathletes having a chat as we cycled round the route. Some of the driving we saw was unbelievably bad.

I should also point out that in places the road surface is absolutely terrible, especially near Wheelton where you cross over the top lock section of the Leeds to Liverpool Canal. It’s also quite technical here, so take it a little easier. During the loop I was asked if I would use a Tri-bike or regular road bike if I was racing. My answer is whatever your most comfortable with. If you use a Tri-bike make sure you can descend safely and that you can climb. Also make sure that you don’t have a silly cassette without low enough gears for the two big climbs. As for tyres, I would go with 25mm if they will fit, and I would sacrifice a little speed for durability. My choice of tyre is a Specialized Armadillo, but Conti 4 seasons or Schwalbe Marathon Plus would also work well, instead of puncture prone Vittoria or similar.

We didn’t have a cafe stop on our loop, but we did stop a few times for nutrition, or ‘biscuits’ in my case. Proper race nutrition isn’t really my strong point. I was seen eating a bag of Hula-Hoops on the run during my Triple Ironman.

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On the route everyone is wary of Sheephouse Lane, but the other climb, Hunters Hill is just as bad. It’s not as long but the steep section is steeper. I was riding with a compact chainset and a 12-27 cassette. I had one gear left up Sheephouse, but used the bottom one on Hunters Hill. At the bottom of the hill you can see a white house. This is the end of the steep section and you’re nearly there once you reach it. Again on race day there will be hundreds of people to cheer you on, many of them drunk as there is a pub at the top. The pub are also happy to fill up water bottles when you’re out training, or lend you a pair of pliers is you can’t remove the funny washer thing from your inner tube if you get a flat.

At the top, while waiting for the puncture repair, another group of cyclists appeared, one of them wearing a Hells 500 top. Always good to meet a fellow Everester!

From the top of Hunters Hill it’s only a few miles back to Babylon Lane, where you’ll begin your second lap. We were tempted by the brilliant Phil Walton for a brew, but time was getting on so we headed straight back to Bolton. Once again the traffic was awful, something you won’t need to worry about on race day, but be careful out there on a recce.

We did 60 miles, which included one full lap and the out and back section from Bolton, although the ‘out’ section on race day will be from Pennington Flash, but is about the same distance. The route does look a little like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of Bolton.

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One of our little group, Tammy, was ecstatic with completing her first full lap of the course, and given how much she’s improved over the winter, she’ll have a great race day in July.

As for me, I’ll be stood on Babylon Lane with a burger or chocolate, cheering you on, doing my best Seasick Steve impression.

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Wherever you’re racing this year, have a great one.

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Races for 2018

It’s that time of year when people enter races, unless it’s Ironman, which you’ll have entered months ago. I’ve been busily using my debit card and have entered a plethora of races for 2018. First up is a trail race.

Grizedale Half Marathon – 4th February

I’ve not done a ‘real’ running race for a few years, and it could well be over ten years since I last did a half marathon, except for on Strava. I’m not totally running fit, but it should be nice to run somewhere different and not worry about my pace as I’ll be quite happy to sneak in under 2 hours.

No Excuses Sportive – 25th march

The name ‘no excuses’ is because this particular sportive is free. You sign up and pay your ¬£40 entry fee, but if you finish it then you get your money back, which sounds good to me. The start and finish is in Carlisle and heads out to the coast, an area that I’ve not cycled before, which makes it even better.

Isoman – 30th June

This is my big race of the year, and it is bonkers. The idea is that each discipline is given equal time, so using a complicated formula based on world records, the organisers have come up with a ‘game changer’ of a triathlon. The full race, which I’m doing involves a 7 mile swim, 61 mile bike and then a full marathon. I’m fairly sure that the swim puts most people off. There are also half and quarter distances available, although the quarter still has a 1.75 mile swim. The entry fee was also a fraction of Ironman, which is another bonus.

Hurly Burly 10km Swim – 30th September

To finish the year I’ve entered an open water swim in North Wales. Set in Barmouth, the swim starts off the beach and then heads upstream, although with the tide the organisers state that this could easily be the fastest 10km in the country.

As we head into the year I might enter a few more races, but for now, these are the ones that I’m concentrating on. Say ‘Hi’ if you’re at any of them, I’m the one with the beard.

 

Salford Triathlon – The Swim

Yesterday I blogged about my first triathlon of the year. You can read about it here. A few weeks earlier I completed the swim as part of a work relay.

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I work at Wardell-Armstrong, who have been one of the sponsors of the Salford Triathlon since it’s inception. Because of the sponsorship, the firm is given four free places, and so that as many people as possible can take part all four places are used in the relay event. Knowing that there would be a lack of swimmers I put my name down, even though it is my slowest discipline. It was also only the second time this year that I’ve put on my wetsuit. They shrink in the winter.

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The swim was in Salford Quay, which is probably one of the cleanest places I’ve swam in. The last time I swam there was a 10km, which was definitely a bit long. This time the bouys had been put out in the right places, and with there wasn’t too much agro with the start, which was nice.

I was hoping for about 30 minutes, which was almost exactly what I did, although it was a long run into transition for the handover to my colleague on the bike.

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Once I’d handed over I got myself changed and walked around much of the bike course to cheer on my work colleagues. The problem was that I really wanted to be doing the whole thing, even though I’m a long way off full fitness, which was why later that weekend I entered the Sedbergh Triathlon, and I might even manage another race in September.

My team mates also did really well, as we came in fifth team overall, and fourth men’s team. Next year though, I will definitely do the whole race.

Howgills Triathlon

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a relay triathlon, where I did the swim leg, even though swimming is my weakest discipline. I had a great time but I couldn’t help thinking that I should have been doing the whole thing. My last triathlon was over a year ago, although it was quite long (read about my triple ironman here).

Fortuitously, on my Facebook feed an advert turned up for the Epic Events Howgills Triathlon, starting and finishing in Sedbergh, so only a few miles down the road from Lancaster. It was also a Saturday race, which makes a nice change and gives you enough time to recover for work on Monday. I was off at 11:22, so again, no stupidly early start.

The race was based at Sedbergh school, which was very posh. Registered and bike racked with plenty of time to spare, me and my beautiful wife headed to the pool to watch the earlier waves. The swim was 400m, with three people in each lane and only four lanes, meant that it was not too busy. The funny layout of the pool did mean that we were starting and finishing in the deep end, which some people found difficult to climb out, and then you had to go up a flight of stairs, across the balcony and then down more stairs before a short run to transition.

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One guy in my wave decided that the run to transition was too far to run barefoot. No issues in transition, and I managed to press the correct buttons on the watch I was borrowing. I was using my wife’s Garmin 920 which has a triathlon setting. It all worked well, recording my split times and transition times.

Onto the bike and it was a route that I’ve done many times. Out and back from Sedbergh, towards Kirkby Stephen. The route is mainly uphill on the way out, and as expected it rained. Sedbergh has it’s own micro-climate where it always rains. Coming back there was a pleasant headwind. With the small waves there wasn’t too many people for me to catch, or to be caught by. The bike route was just under 20 miles, which took be almost exactly 1 hour.

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One thing I like about Epic Events is that they post photos on Facebook for free, which is a nice added touch. I had also given my trusty Scott Addict a clean (read about my bike here).

Once again I had no issues in transition and was soon out on the run. I was using an old pair of trail shoes as the run went up to the top of Winder Fell, although the first mile was on pavements which my feet were not too happy about. The road soon headed up, and suitably cheered on by my wife I continued up on the road. The last mile before the turn around point was off road and steep, with one section very rocky. I continued to run for a while but soon I was walking as the fell continued up and up. The views from the top were amazing, although my lower back was very sore. Apparently this is common when trying to run up steep fells.

I’m not a good feel runner so I was overtaken by quite a few people on the way down, although I overtook most of them once we reached tarmac. My left knee was a little sore from running downhill, but was fine once I was on the last flat mile to the finish. Even though the run was only five and a bit miles, it took me 50 minute. There was almost 400m of climbing.

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There were lots of cheers from complete strangers as I crossed the line. Bottle of water, medal and a hug from the wife. Total time was just over 2 hours and I finished in 30th position out of 100+. Not my best performance, but I’m not fully fit so I was happy to just enjoy the race. My toes were a bit sore from running without socks, but apart from that I didn’t feel too bad for my 54th triathlon.

I probably won’t do the Sedbergh Triathlon again due to the run, but I will definitely do more races from Epic Events, well organised and marshalled, and not too expensive.

#Bemoredoug

This is a difficult blog entry to write. A few days ago Doug Waymark died while swimming the channel. Last year another swimmer, Nick Thomas, also died. Both men were part of the ultra-distance triathlon community, which isn’t very large, so you see many of the same faces at every race.

In 2014 I successfully completed a double ironman, after a DNF in 2013. I finished 12th. Doug was 13th, although all we both wanted was to finish relatively unscathed. He was 4 years younger than me, which is no age to die. His family and friends set up the hashtag #bemoredoug, hence the title of my blog entry, to make it easier for people to discover what a great bloke he was and to share stories.

In 2016 I completed a triple ironman. Over the three days of racing there were various other races and distances, including what was called a 3-2-1 swim. This involved a triple ironman swim on the Friday, a double on the Saturday and a single on the Sunday. A total of 14.4 miles of swimming. One competitor in this event, seen in the photo below without a wetsuit, was Nick.

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Nick was training for a cross channel swim later in the year, and when not doing the 3-2-1 swim he helped out with the other races over the weekend. When I crossed the finish line he handed me my medal and I could see the pleasure on his face that I’d completed what for me was a huge challenge.

“He died doing what he loved” was one of the tributes to Nick last year. I don’t want to die doing what I love, I want to live doing what I love. I want to die in my own bed when I’m in my 100’s, having lead a full life.

I’ll soon be 50, and there is so much out there that I want to do. The untimely deaths of these great and wonderful men has hit me hard. I need to make things happen before it’s too late. I don’t have a bucket list, it’s too cliched, but here are a few of the adventures I am going to start planning.

  • Big adventure – spend a couple of years cycling round the world.
  • Medium adventure – complete 50 and then 100 parkruns across the whole of the UK.
  • Small adventure – drink quality rum from Guyana, snuggling on the sofa with my beautiful wife while watching Game of Thrones series 7.

Rest in Piece Doug and Nick, you’ll both be missed by so many people.

Triple Ironman

It’s about time that I got round to writing about my continuous triple ironman distance race from 2016, also known as Enduroman. I’ll try to keep this report a little shorter than the one for my double ironman in 2014 (read about it here).

There are loads of M-dot races to chose from each year, but for some reason there is much less choice when it comes to ultra triathlons, especially if you don’t want to race abroad. Enduroman or Brutal? The Brutal has the run going up Snowdonia, living up to it’s name, so I plumped once again for Enduroman. I’d raced there in 2013 and 2014, giving 2015 a miss. I was also upping the distance from a double to a triple. What an idiot, didn’t I learn anything from last time. Before sending off my entry fee (less than IMUK, read about my 2017 ironman journey here) I talked it over with my partner, who is now my wife. She was very supportive and told me to go for it.

I knew from 2014 that I needed to run more, so I ran at least 200km a month for the preceding 6 months, running most days in the build up, as well as a 32 mile run at the Halloween Hell on the Humber.

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I reduced the number of times I was swimming, but did complete my longest pool swim ever, over 8km (read about it here). I also did a whole load of century rides and one double century, where I set off at midnight to simulate riding when tired. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. We took Nell (our loyal pooch) to Helen’s Mum, loaded up the car with bikes, food and tent, and off we went.

It’s a long old drive from Lancaster to Avon Tyrell in the New Forrest. Tent erected, small talk with Clive and Graham, before 1 lap of the bike course. Race briefing, plenty of familiar faces and an early night, although someone decided to crank out some Queen.

The triple started on the Friday at the ungodly hour of 9am. More than enough time to borrow a reflective vest off Clive, as mine wasn’t reflective enough for riding at night.

The lake isn’t particularly big, and I can’t remember how many laps were required, but I think it was about 40. A short swim brief from Dan and we were off. There were only 18 entries for the triple, along with half a dozen doing the 3-2-1 swim, which was a triple distance swim on the Friday, a double swim on the Saturday finishing off with a single on the Sunday. As you can see from the photo below it wasn’t your usual mass swim start.

swim start

The guy without the wetsuit is Nick Thomas, who tragically died later in the year attempting to swim the channel. I only met you a couple of times but you were unfailingly friendly. Far too young.

One of the funny things about ultra tri’s is that very few of us come from a swimming background, so there would be a few finishing close to the 8 hour swim cut-off. I’m smiling in the photo below because I’ve only got a couple of laps to go.

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Each lap we had to swim alongside a jetty and shout out our number, and this year I managed not to lose count. One of the other competitors had placed a large clock on the bank, so we could see the time ticking slowly round. On your last lap a message would be relayed from the lap counters to your support crew so that they would be ready to help. As you can see from the photo below the swim had taken a large bite out of me, although I was fifth out of the water in a time of 3 hours 51 mins. (Strava swim activity here).

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I made my way to the changing tent, with the help of my wife, removed my wetsuit and changed into cycling gear, and then sat down for lunch. Not your usual transition as I took 41 mins.

The bike course involved 29 relatively flat laps, which got progressively hillier as the days wore on. There were also problems with rubbish drivers, new forest ponies and cattle grids. My plan was to use my Fuji Tri bike (photo below) during daylight and my Scott Addict (here) at night.

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Nutrition wise, my plan was to eat real food as much as possible, and then have a proper sit down meal twice a day. In my first bike session I managed 7 laps, although the swim had taken far more out of me than I had expected, with my neck, shoulders and elbows all feeling it. My right wrist was also hurting from going over cattle grids at speed on my tri bars.

A couple of laps into the bike course it was a pleasant sight to see Chris Wild with Helen at the race HQ. He had crewed for me during my double in 2014 and it was great to have him back once again.

Hot food, coffee and trifle and I was ready for the first night session. I didn’t eat all of the trifles, but I did have 2 or 3.

Tea

Out on the Scott and I started to feel better, and had soon knocked out another 6 laps. Before the race I had decided that if I felt tired, dangerously tired, I would stop for a sleep, and on my 14th lap I almost nodded off. I would have liked to have gone over half way, but I climbed off the bike, handed it to Chris and headed to the tent for a few hours of sleep. Helen had gone to the tent a couple of hours earlier, having decided that she crew for me on her own in the mornings, and Chris would do the evenings, with both of them crewing in the day.

A few more laps the next morning, breakfast followed by a 30 minute power nap, before pushing on through the day to finish the bike leg in 29 hours and 11 mins. Initially I had hoped to complete the bike leg in under 24 hours, but as I said, the swim had taken it’s toll. (Strava bike activities here, here, here and here).

Finishing the bike coincided nicely with tea time, and another 30 minute transition. A quick change into running gear, and off I went “running”. The run consists of an undulating technical 1.1 mile lap, which had to be completed 72 times. I managed 11 laps before I slowed so much that it made sense for another sleep. In the tent I woke Helen up with some of the most noxious pumps ever, sorry about that.

Three hours later and off I set once again. Chris climbed out of his camper van in time for breakfast and was amazed to see that I’d knocked out another half marathon. Like most competitors I was running the downhill and flat bits and walking the uphill, although this still meant that each lap would take 20 mins. Walking a whole lap seemed to take forever.

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I had specifically told Chris and Helen that I didn’t want to know my position in the race, as as far as I was concerned I was only up against myself. Plus, a good friend had come unstuck in 2014 racing the triple (read his blog here). After the race I found out that there were two people hot on my heels who closed the gap on me every time I stopped for a rest, but once I started again I would pull away. One of them was walking the “run” wearing a pair of big walking boots. That would have been embarassing if his run had been quicker than mine.

I did however know that 1st and 2nd were having an epic battle, and had decided to run together until half a lap to go, whereupon they would race to the line. I had completed 2 of the 3 marathons, so I sat down with Helen and Chris to watch them finish. It was unbelievable watching these two guys all out sprinting to the finish line after 50+ hours of racing.

Only 1 marathon left for me, so off I plodded. One problem I had was that ever time I stopped for a break it would take me a whole lap to get running once again. The advice from one of the other runners was obvious, don’t stop.

The lowest point for me came with 13 laps to go. My feet were killing me, so Helen massaged them with neurofen gel. I knew at that point I could finish, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, as I couldn’t face another 6 or 7 hours. A hug and cry with Helen and off I set once again, determined not to stop until I was finished.

Getting down to single laps to go was a real boost, and Chris had placed a box of edible goodies on a bench on the opposite side of the run lap, which was nice. As with the swim I wasn’t having any trouble remembering what lap I was on. When I crossed the start/finish line with 5 laps to go, Helen, smiling, told me I only had 6 to go. Also smiling, I told her she could f*ck her 6 laps and that I was only doing 5.

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Soon it was time for my last lap, and at Enduroman this is done in reverse, so you get to see everyone. I had high-fived a very tired looking Matt Pritchard earlier in the day when he was on his last lap to finish in third place. I found this last lap to be very emotional in 2014, but this year I was just happy that it was over. The run had taken me 24 hours and 8 mins. (Strava run activities here, here, here and here).

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Hugs at the end, followed by a chicken dinner before being helped back to the tent. Helen asked me if I wanted more food. Yes please I replied, and then two minutes later I was fast asleep.

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I finished in 7th place in a time of 58 hours and 23 mins, with only 5 DNFs. Not surprisingly it took me most of the summer to recover and I’m still not sure if I’ll ever do another long distance race, as at the moment I’m enjoying just going out cycling and taking it easy.

At the end of last year at the COLT Christmas do, I was awarded a trophy. Biggest idiot award I think, although Chris made a great speech.

Finally, there is no way that I would even have made the starting line if it hadn’t been for my wife, Helen. She has also promised to write about my triple, from the point of view of a support crew and loved one, which should be interesting.

Me and Tim

In light of Tim Don’s amazing recent performance at Ironman Brazil, finishing in 7 hours and 40 mins, I thought I’d share a couple of memories from when I raced against him. (When I say ‘raced against him’ I mean that I was in the same race and wasn’t for a moment ‘racing’ Tim).

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Back in 1999 I was living in Bournemouth, and during the summer there were a few open water swim aquathons, one of which a young Tim Don took part in. I would like to say I raced against him, but from the moment the race started he was gone.

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The race was approximately 500m swim followed by a hilly 5k run. I remember being happy with my run and not happy with my swim, although some of that was trying to remove my wetsuit.

A few years later I decided to have a go at qualifying for the age group world championships (Olympic distance) that were going to be held in Queenstown, New Zealand. The first qualifying race of the season was in Windsor, and I lined up with a few friends from the Oxford Tri Club, who also wanted to qualify. I can’t remember too much about the race, except that it felt good, as I finished 63rd overall, out of a field in excess of 1000, in a time of 2hours and 10 mins.

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Tri-suits were a bit shorter in the leg back then and you didn’t get a time penalty for undoing your zip. I was also under the misguided impression that if I shaved off my beard I would go faster.

What about Tim? He was racing in the elite wave that day, and technically I beat him, as he was DQ’d, along with almost all of the elites. The leading swimmer turned at the wrong buoy and most of the elites followed. Three elites who were slower swimmers turned a bit further down the river at the correct buoy, giving the referee no option but to DQ the majority of the field.

Despite my quick time it wasn’t enough for me to qualify, although I did go in the end, as I was third reserve and three others pulled out. Tim, on the other hand, failed to qualify, although he had by that time raced in the Olympics, and would go on to race in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as well.

Back to Ironman Brazil, and I struggle to comprehend just how fast Tim completed each discipline. 44 mins for the swim, 4hours and 6 min for the bike and 2 hr 44 for the marathon. Not many people could do any one of those events in the time, so my hat is well and truly doffed to Mr Don, and all the best in Kona at the end of the season.