IRONMAN UK (BOLTON, 2017)
Having gone though an ‘Age Group’ triathlon/duathlon phase in previous years it was always going to be interesting comparing that experience to the parallel ‘big event’ experience of a branded Ironman.
The purpose of this post is just to briefly explain the event and then give a little insight into MY training, in case you are ever considering this kind of race for yourself. This site being what it is, I will also cover some of the gadgets too.
Ironman UK was definitely on another level in terms of crowd participation. You always got the impression with the ITU/ETU age groups events that 98% of the crowd were family and friends. I’m sure a lot of the same families and friends were also there at Bolton for Ironman UK but it definitely seemed like there were very significantly more than 2% of the crowd being locals. The good weather probably helped get everyone out and added to the ever-present good spirits.
Whilst the 6AM start in a lake at an out-of-town location didn’t attract any local spectators, the support built up throughout the day. The first lap of the bike course had some wetness remaining in the air and on the ground but, by the second lap, there was great support at key parts of the course. Normally either at the bottom, middle or top of one of the hills. Moving on to the run, in total there were probably thousands of spectators; their applause and cheer heard numerous times by the run having 3 laps. I’m never quite sure how much having an athlete’s name called out spurs the athlete on but I’m sure it must for many – there was lots of frequent encouragement from the crowd. All great stuff.
The event itself is organisationally centred at Bolton Wanderers FC’s stadium (Macron) but with an out-of-town Swim and T1 at Pennington Flash Lake. T2 is at the stadium and the finish is in the town centre. If you think about what has to be organised at these disparate locations and then integrated into 17+ hours or so of total race time then you realise that, so it seemed to me, the event must be extremely well thought through and organised. We could always nit pick but I’m in a good mood today, so I won’t. It was a good event.
The sheer overall distance of the course was very challenging for me. If you plan to do an Ironman I would definitely recommend doing a Half IM first (I have and you really SHOULD do that). I’m sure there are easier full distance courses (Outlaw, non Ironman) and harder ones like IM Wales. Nevertheless, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done sportingly by quite a long way. It turned out to be a challenge-completion more than a race for me and many others.
THE 3 DISCIPLINES
The swim is pretty much the same as any other.
The bike has a mile or so of vertical climbing, probably not too dissimilar to London-Brighton and back. If you train for the distance and the total ascent, then the bike is not particularly hard.
The marathon run at the end starts off flat and then goes through 3 hilly laps. Well, it seemed hilly at the time. As a standalone marathon you might describe it as ‘a bit more than undulating’ but after 100+ miles of cycling it did feel a little mountainous as the race progressed.
If you trained well for it then you would probably have found it easier than I did. But the vast majority of runners were walking at multiple points on the course. I would say more than 95% of people did the ‘run-walk’, especially when refuelling/hydrating.
FWIW: I would consider myself a reasonably good Age Group athlete and have pre-qualified for shorter ETU/ITU events. IMO, my training (and race day strategy) was largely executed ‘properly’. I did finish quite well up the AG list in the first quarter but not as well as I hoped/expected.
The only problem I had with the training was missing out on a few key weeks of running through injury. If I then couple that with my historic avoidance of longer running distances (hence: the5krunner.com) then you can perhaps sense the race-day problem that I will shortly reveal.
I know that if I was doing a shorter race then those two factors would have had a MUCH lesser impact.
To put my training into perspective, I probably do 10 hours a week on average, maybe more. I very significantly ramped up the training as the following chart shows. The dip shows the running-injury period.
So I was probably peaking at just under 20 hours training a week leading up to IMUK. I think most of us would consider that as ‘taking it seriously’. I’d never done these training loads before and I was probably somewhere close to the limit of what my training load could be – hence maybe the injury.
My race goal was to ‘race it’ rather than finish it. Although I had no illusions of Kona qualification or anything like that. I’m not that good.
I had time and positional related goals, with the time goals being scientifically based on adding up my 3-discipline times and ‘adding a bit on’. With ‘a bit’ being half an hour. Note to self: make it an hour next time. 😉
My training strategy was broadly: maintain swim and consolidate ability to do the distance; significantly increase bike load for 3-7 hours rides, including hard hills; increase an easy-paced running load to something like a ‘marathon-light’ level.
I did the swim/bike training to my satisfaction but with the running I only got up to relatively frequent 10-16 mile runs. And I’d planned to get another 10km on either end of those limits – but didn’t.
My training was periodised and I built, peaked and tapered in what I would consider to be a broadly ‘proper’ fashion. Within the constraints of how I’ve already said I trained around injury, I hit my Zone 1-2 endurance targets. I was perhaps unable to hit some of the harder Zone 4 work later on in the training due to cumulative fatigue.
My personal risks areas were; failing to hydrate/refuel properly; cramp on the run; and mechanicals. Mitigation was, respectively: practice!; practice and magnesium; and CO2+inner tube+bike service.
So, with all that in mind, I approached the race with nervous confidence, a degree of trepidation and a smile.
I was vaguely happy with my overall time and happy with the swim+bike time but let’s not get too far ahead.
I took a gamble with something to aid my sleep. It paid off and I had 6 good hours of sleep. So I woke up at 4 o’clock and soon felt good.
Being fairly laid back I arrived later than most people but all was good in getting to the start line with toilet stops and the like.
The rolling start format to the swim was excellent. There was no nonsense around me at any point in the race and no-one seemed to object too much to the occasional accidental contacts. Cramp hit on lap 2. That was a bit of a worry as I don’t normally get cramp when swimming although I had been getting it in recent weeks. As Dory would say, “Just keep swimming”. So I followed her advice.
T1 was a leisurely affair. I even had time to put my special running socks on. Someone had tried to steal my Garmin on the bike…luckily the cable tie helped stop that. tut, tut. You naughty person.
Being an average swimmer I always like triathlons as I tend to overtake vastly more people on the bike than who overtake me. This was no exception. Indeed it was probably better than other races as many people seemed to have tired on the second of the two bike laps. So I did keep on passing people on the whole for the entire bike leg.
I wouldn’t describe the bike route as ‘technical’. Yet there are a few sharp turns and there were SEVERAL crashes but really there shouldn’t have been. Perhaps there was some dicey patches of mud on the first lap but by the second it was all good.
Some parts of the road surface were nearly excellent. The occasional hole (apart from the only one I hit not too far from the finish) were marked with paint. But generally the surface was better than what I’m used to in Surrey. So all was good, in my opinion.
The hills/ascents were perfectly fine.
Nice scenery, good crowd. Sorted.
I probably started to feel less than optimal (but still good) at somewhere around 80/90 miles. If I was on a 110 mile bike ride I would have put the hammer down at that point and still finished strongly enough. But clearly more was to come so the hammer stayed in the tool bag. Interestingly, this is a chart of the PERFORMANCE CONDITION metric from Firstbeat on my Garmin – it seems to agree with how I felt. I only looked at it afterwards but it didn’t seem too unreasonable, I might have to look at that a bit more closely in the future
Bike NP (avg power) target was top of Zone 2. Didn’t quite hit NP target but was close enough. Zone 3 was 24% of the time – higher than I thought when riding and maybe too high on reflection. Zone 4 was 4% of the time, again a bit more than I remember. Time-in-Heart-rate zones were similar, a bit lower maybe, and HR was a bit higher at the start until it settled down.
The moment of truth then as we emerge from T2 on to the run. Almost straight into a hill and……no cramp. Joy. Running well (running properly). Couple of km later. Still no cramp. Awesome. Still running properly. It’s going to be good.
Apparently the temperature was 25 degrees at this point. Still felt great. No problemo.
The first 10km running felt good. Looking back at the stats, funnily enough, perhaps only the first 5k was good in reality (I should stick to my day job as the5krunner). Thereafter the ‘hills’ on the run laps progressively took their toll. Running through the first water/fuel stop and quickly grabbing two cups progressively turned into an amble through the stops and then eventually a walk through the later ones.
So my secret goal of “not walking” was history.
Being over-worried by insufficient nutrition I probably over-fuelled and got mild GID. Not a big problem just discomfort.
A glance at the watch…cadence good, heart rate loooooow, pace and power in places it’s too impolite to mention in polite society. Hey my calfs don’t hurt. That’s a first. Shame everything else seems to hurt.
The last 2 miles is mostly downhill and that was an incentive to run properly. At least it felt like running properly based on the degree of hurt but the reality was slower. Naturally I sped up for the finish line photo.
Medal. T-shirt. Sorted.
I always agonise about what extra time I could have saved, especially on short races. Maybe 5 minutes on this one if I didn’t faff around? Maybe 10 minutes if I didn’t faff around AND if I ran a bit harder to the fabled 110% level? Either way, not enough to make that much of an overall difference.
Cycling a bit slower may have helped the run. Swimming a bit faster wouldn’t have hurt anything.
Some thoughts on some of the gear I used. I wimped out and went all-Garmin in the end.
- Well, I saw someone using hand gloves of some sort. Naughty boy.
- I just used my normal stuff. Nothing special or noteworthy other than the HRM-TRI for recording the HR for later viewing. Does anyone look at their watch when OW swimming? Not me.
- Having said that I did set the swim-mode to beep/vibrate every 10 minutes, that was a reasonable way of realising I was a tad behind schedule with the last quarter to go.
- I used the Garmin 935. With some trepidation. It was mostly going to be a ‘recording device’. Albeit an expensive one.
- It’s definitely a TT bike course if you can hold the position for over 80% of your expected duration
- Favero BePro PM – awesome. Even more so dangled on the end of carbon cranks and ceramic bearings. Sweet.
- New 60mm Mavic CXR wheels (80mm rear) – awesome. I’m going to write about these at some point as they are super-sweet.
- Q-rings – only a big one, 53T I think. Nice. I used a circular inner one. Habit.
- Ultegra bits – they shift well enough for me. Likey, likey.
- My front tyre was quite narrow – maybe 21mm, I’ll have to check, they came with the wheel and a special aero tyre rim fairing. Comfy enough. I had a 23mm speedy Schwalbe on the rear. Tyre pressure was probably in the 90s PSI on both – I’m going to write about simple bike performance bits in the future…not having 120psi or above even with tubs would be one of those areas 😉
- Garmin Edge 820 – I set it on ULTRATRAC mode for GPS just in case of battery issues. I think the battery life is now down to 7.5/8 hours ish after a year of use??? So should be Ok for most people for an IM. It lost the power signal totally coming out of T1 so I had to reboot it. Other than that is was good. The latest firmware seems good to me and the touchscreen now works (even when it was wet at the start …ta da!).
- Garmin 935 – obviously was wearing this as well here on the bike but never used it for anything but recording. I used a proper GPS setting to get a good track in preference over the ultratrac track on the 820. Interesting I got a few STRAVA top10-s with the 820 on ULTRATRAC on my personal account as it had me cutting corners!! Don’t worry, I deleted it.
- In the end there were no notable dropouts so both power tracks were the same.
- I used an 11-32T cassette. I probably needed a tad more spinning ability than the 32 in a few places. But a couple of minutes at 60rpm (or whatever it was) was fine. Even 32 might cause you problems with chain length and hanger length so beware when buying.
- I’d not had a bike fit for a while and was feeling a little uncomfortable towards the end, still in aero. A bike fit might have helped.
- The discomfort was made slightly worse by a recent change I’d made back to a normal saddle FROM the ADAMO. So discomfort in the nether regions returned but the normal saddle seems to help alleviate pain in the ITB and piriformis. Swings or roundabouts?
- I ended up using New Balance Zante v3 Fresh Foam. I was torn between Newtons and Mizuno Waveriders but made right choice for me. Light and bouncy enough, maybe I should have bought a new pair a few weeks before the race for a bit of extra bounciness?
- I’d not had enough time with the Newtons to risk a relatively new shoe.
- I had plenty of magnesium and only once had a hint of cramp up the short steep hill near the end of lap 2. Magnesium+fuelling+hydration+training (!) seem to have sorted my cramp issues on longer distances.
- The 935 had it’s occasional glance from my embattled eyes but its stats were never a pretty sight so it was best to run by feel. ie if you feel like stopping, keep running.
- STRYD – In reality I had my power targets a bit too high for the run. I couldn’t hit them. I did use STRYD to temper my efforts up the hills and it was very useful in that respect. So it stopped me doing silly ad-hoc efforts but the race target was too high so I continually revised it downwards. 🙁 . Perhaps the STRYD saved some catastrophically stupid uphill effort..I’ll never know.
- Pace was pretty meaningless to run by. It was mostly either uphill or downhill.
- HR pretty much stayed in Zone 1 …eesh. HR could have gone higher but my legs couldn’t go faster.
- I risked the Injinji running sock in the end. Yes they took a minute to get on but I have no blisters as I write this and my 9 toenails are still there.
I’m happy to answer any course or kit related questions below.