Since I started training for this event in December last year, I’ve run 758km, cycled over 5,000km and and swum 170km.
There have also been endless injury prevention measures, from stretching and core stability exercises to painful deep tissue massage and physio sessions. By some stroke of luck I have managed to get my ageing body to the start line in one piece and with no significant injuries on the way despite my very creaky knees and dodgy back. Time now to put all the hard work to the test.
After an early night and several hours spent getting more and more anxious that I was too excited to sleep, the alarm goes off at 03:30 on the morning of 19th July to give me time to take on some fuel (a recurring theme) well in advance of the 06:00 start gun. Porridge, banana, flapjacks and strong coffee are not easy to stomach at that time of the day.
We leave the hotel at 04:30 and arrive at Pennington Flash for the swim start just before 05:00. It’s fairly hard but thankfully there’s not much wind yet so the water is reasonably flat. I check my bike and store energy drink, bars and gels on it for refuelling later. There’s plenty of nervous faffing and chatting with fellow competitors, most of whom are equally nervous IM virgins. The wetsuit goes on at about 05:30, all the time sipping energy drink and nibbling flapjacks and bananas to keep reserves topped up.
I start queuing for the start at about 05:45. Thankfully they’ve changed the swim from a mass start (2,400 people all fighting for space at once) to a rolling start where you seed yourself according to expected swim time (1:15hrs for me) – in theory a much more orderly process. The elite race starts at 05:55 and then, bang on 06:00 the queue starts to move and before I know it I’m in the water (thankfully a toasty 18 degrees C) and the 3.8km mile swim gets underway.
Once I’ve found some space all goes according to plan – except for the weather. I keep an eye on the sky all the time, wondering what the bike conditions are going to be like. Towards the end of lap one the sky starts to brighten, and so do I. Then, early on in lap two, the sky darkens, the heavens open and a deluge of biblical proportions starts bouncing off the water. Not really a problem whilst swimming, bit I’m thinking more about cycling in it, and also about my loyal fan club of 1, Mrs W. I suspect the spectators are getting wetter than the swimmers.
I exit the swim bang on my planned time of 1:16hrs – all good so far. There’s a long run through transition, which already resembles a quagmire, and people are slipping and sliding all over the place on the sodden grass. The transition tent resembles a huge steam bath as dripping wetsuits are peeled off hot bodies.
Now transitions are supposed to be the fourth discipline in triathlon and can make or break a close race. However they’ve never been my strong point, and as I was going to spend the next seven hours or so on a bike in horizontal rain I decided I might as well be as dry and comfortable as possible to start with. A complete change of kit follows, with waterproof top and shoe covers, more flapjack and water, but I’m still not sure how I managed to spend 17 minutes in there.
Maybe it’s lucky I did though, because as I run out to my bike the rain magically eased off and looks like it might stop sometime soon. This was exactly as forecast but meant that the brisk south-westerly wind isn’t far behind. Finished the swim right on schedule.
I leave transition, miraculously without slipping over in the mud, and off I go on the bike. Concentrate hard early on; the trick with the cycle leg is not to get over-excited – it’s easy to go too fast but then you’ll pay for it later on in the run. Keep heart rate down, don’t push too hard on the hills, steady as she goes. It’s a hilly course bike course, with about 2,000m of vertical ascent, and it gets tougher as the wind picks up. There’s a funny thing about cycling in that the wind always seems to be trying to slow you down or blow you sideways, but it never helps you.
The sky starts brightening in the distance.
The bike leg is where I plan to replenish most of my lost energy and fluid. I’ll burn probably 6-8,000 calories during the race. 2-3,000 of those will come from the readily available glycogen that I have carefully stored away in my muscles beforehand, a limited amount will come from burning fat but, in order to avoid the dreaded “bonk” or “hitting the wall”, I need to keep filling the fuel tank.
It’s tricky to eat while swimming, and eating late in the race when running is not a good plan, so I need to take on about 70gm of carbohydrate per hour whilst cycling. My race plan has this carefully worked out at 500ml of energy drink, half an energy bar and an energy gel sachet.
My bike computer beeps every 20 minutes to remind me to eat and drink; I’ve trained to do it but it’s still really hard to keep it up and the stuff I’m shoving down my neck is so disgustingly sweet and sticky, I crave something savoury and salty. The occasional banana breaks the monotony but there is nothing else on offer at the feed stations.
Continue reading David's account of racing Ironman UK (2/2)