Paul reflects on his season so far
Where it all went wrong? I can pinpoint the spot almost exactly. Three quarters the way up the type of hill that at first sight makes your head drop and your heart sink. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, this was the second lap 42 miles into the bike leg at Wimbleball and I’d made it to the top once already and had even overtaken a half a dozen people feeling strong and pleased with myself.
But this time it was different, my legs were just empty, no power, nothing. I have no idea how I didn’t grind to a halt, it may have had something to do with zigzagging across the road in a vain attempt at lowering the gradient but actually just irritating those behind trying to overtake me. When I got to the top, depression hit – another 14 miles of this and then the prospect of a half marathon on a three-lap route that everyone I had spoken to beforehand had said was the hardest bit of the race. It was at this point my focus changed from “What will my time be?” to “Will I finish?”
There is no doubt about it, for anyone who hasn’t been there, the UK 70.3 Ironman at Wimbleball is an incredible race. The organisation, scenery and atmosphere surpassed any race I have previously undertaken. The course, however, is a killer, especially for a novice at the 70.3 distance like me.
Without Bill’s training programme I certainly wouldn’t have finished, let alone somehow recovered from the minor explosion on the bike to drag myself around the run course in an almost respectable time considering the terrain. I was quite disappointed with my overall time at just over six hours but considering how I felt on the last quarter of the bike I was really pleased with the fact I had actually finished a half ironman race. Competing over these longer distances feels very different to the intensity of Sprint and Olympic races and I think experience at this distance will really help – if I can bring myself to contemplate another one!
Two weeks before Wimbleball we raced as an Academy team at another course in a spectacular setting, Blenheim. On the Saturday in the Sprint Team relay we really put Bill’s transition advice into practice and focusing only on one leg allowed us to finish second overall, an amazing result for me having never been placed in a race before.
The following day we returned to Blenheim to race as individuals in the Sprint. Having ridden the bike leg in the relay the day before I wasn’t sure if this would help me through knowing the course or hinder me by taking the edge of my power. The swim went well, I felt both more confident and stronger than at Eton and although probably not my fastest 750m I came out of the water feeling good which is definitely a first for me! Thanks to some advice from Bill, I took my wetsuit off immediately out of the water and carried it the 400m up the climb to T1. This was an excellent piece of advice, the wetsuit was wet and came off easily to allow me to run freely and overtake about 20 people before I got to transition allowing a very fast T1 overall. Although I could feel the previous day’s race in my legs for the first 1k of the bike, it turned out that knowing the course helped more and I managed the bike over 40 seconds faster than the previous day – very pleasing although slightly annoying in that had I done this then, we would have won the relay (Sorry Caspar and Kate!). The run felt good and the amazing setting helping me through the two laps to a satisfying overall result.
Now we are properly into the race season I can really feel the training paying off. Transitions are becoming slicker, I can actually run as opposed to waddle out of T2 and am starting to get used to the washing machine that is the swim start. London is six weeks away and there is a lot of training still to be done but at least I’m starting to feel confident.