Tri Preston is a small and friendly triathlon club in Lancashire. The 2014 season saw 35 TPers (a quarter of the club) deciding to take the step up to the full Ironman distance at various events in the UK and Europe.
Covering many age groups and a cross-section of abilities, their ambitions ranged from looking to get home in under ten hours to those for whom crossing the finish line inside the cut-off represented a lifetime achievement. So how did they get on?
Through the winter and early spring, all the TPers who were going long disappeared into their own training worlds. Despite a plan to work together, the variability in experience, ability and ambition of each person meant this became unworkable and team training sessions became sparser, much to the frustration of the TPers not going long.
Some common themes came through from the training:
– Most plans were based around ten sessions a week: one core strength and three each swim/bike/run, with two shorter interval/threshold sessions to develop cardiovascular fitness and a longer one done at the end of the week, to build endurance and strength.
– Early morning starts are a must, especially for the swims. 6am is a lie-in!
– Maintaining a mix of turbo and road cycling gets you through the worst of a northern winter, and the amount of sweat it is possible to generate in one hour on a turbo trainer is truly astounding. We all lost weight and most of the team admitted to being constantly hungry, tired and with a dull ache in the legs most of the time (according to the Ironman veterans, this is normal).
Burning brownie points
The volume of training for an Ironman is exponentially higher than for middle distance, and typical training durations were 12-14 hours per week in the early March build phase, increasing to 15+ hours in the peak phase towards the end of May. So the need for understanding/supportive partners and family is a must. Some of us were burning brownie points as fast as calories!
First race on the roster was Ironman Austria (29 June 2014), which saw twelve TPers step up to the full distance, including four newbies.
The first challenge was travelling down to Austria by land, sea and air, with most arriving in Klagenfurt on Wednesday/Thursday and departing the following Tuesday. Some chose the full service packages offered by the likes of Nirvana who literally take control of organising everything. The more financially constrained (aka tight – we do live near Yorkshire after all) went for the DIY option.
Flying to Klagenfurt from the UK is not straightforward and the cost of excess baggage led the rest of us to drive. In all, we took one car and two vans loaded with all the gear needed for ten triathletes and camping. On the way down van number two managed to attract the attention of the Austrian Polizei who, after being initially disappointed by the complete lack of travel documents, were impressed by the fifteen thousand pounds’ worth of triathlon gear in the van (around three times the value of the van) and, after a short conversation with the DVLA, wished us good luck in the race and even escorted us back to the motorway.
The great advantage of the Klagenfurt course is that it is a tightly-focussed event, with the campsite right next to the finish and five minutes from transition to race HQ. Camping worked really well right up until the thunderstorm the night after the race, when we were able to look up at the more affluent TPers in their very posh and very dry Seepark hotel.
Ironman Austria (WTC claim it is their ‘European jewel in the crown’) has fantastic organisation, a great location, challenging course and good weather. It even rained on the bike course, which made us feel at home, and was a warm 26˚C in the afternoon for the run. It also has the most brutal mass start swim ever! The bike course is fast, but not flat, with around 1700m of vertical (mountains in Austria – who knew?) and a flat run along the lakeshore and into town and back.
First TPer home was Wayne in 10:48 and, as always, we had some top support from friends and family, including the immortal Jonts and Paul, who claimed to have nailed their hydration and nutrition strategy for the day, finishing the last of their beer and sandwiches only as the last TPer crossed the line.
Special mention must go also to honorary TP member Lee, a Welsh surfer and team GB rafter who arrived the day before the race and, whilst pitching his tent, casually mentioned he had never actually done a triathlon at any distance before and did we have any tips? Yes… Don’t drown on the swim, don’t fall off the bike and don’t stop on the run. He had a great debut and finished despite puncturing three times!
Another great feature of Ironman Austria is the epic post-race party and ours involved free beer, great food, fireworks, the RAF, a stolen barrel of beer and Jagerbombs.
Getting home became interesting when the errant van two, the same that had attracted Austrian Polizei interest on the outbound journey, decided it liked Austria and was keen to stay a bit longer. This made the return logistics somewhat more complex, with three of the guys needing their kit three weeks later for Bolton.
So after much shuffling, rearranging and repacking into the returning vehicles, van two began its long, slow repatriation loaded with bikes and gear that several of the team admitted they never wanted to see again, whilst its occupants got a shiny hire car to drive to Calais (getting a speeding ticket on the way home).
The bottom line: twelve started; twelve finished.
Next up on 20 July 2014 was our local event, Ironman UK. No travel issues here, with T1 only twenty miles down the M61. The Bolton version of Ironman saw a total of fourteen TPers, including four newbies and three crazy people who had done Austria only three weeks before. The weather was good, with a few changes around transition and a new bike course for 2014.
One of the advantages of it being local had been the ability to recce the bike route through the winter and spring, with the consensus of opinion being that the new bike route makes Bolton Ironman a challenging course with lots of contours to break the rhythm and a tough new climb up Hunters Hill, at the top of which were the full TP support crew who conveniently based themselves right next to the pub and barbecue.
First TP home was Brian Manchester in 10:19, with Nikki Rushton finishing first in her age group and securing qualification for a Kona slot in her very first Ironman. Of the fourteen TPers who started the day, the only one not to finish was one of the athletes who had done Austria three weeks earlier, went into the day carrying an injury and only pulled up one hundred miles into the bike leg.
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After supporting the bike leg (aka when the pub shut), those of the TP support crew who didn’t go into Bolton to watch the run leg went home to stay glued to the athlete tracker and Facebook to watch them all come home. Finish of the day went to TP cut-off time specialist and three-time Ironman, Dean in 16:54:34.
Over five minutes inside the cut-off, missing his 2013 personal best by over an hour, but a full five minutes inside his 2012 time of 16:59:34 when he was the final finisher. As Dean said afterwards “if a slow running breaststroker can finish, anyone can. It just takes the iron will to never stop until you cross the line.”
On the same day as most of the club’s attention was focussed on Ironman UK at Bolton, two of the team, Lee and Carol, sneaked across to Bavaria to take on Challenge Roth. After playing pro-triathlete top trumps, spotting all the pros pre-race, both came home in very respectable times having enjoyed the experience of the Solarer Berg hill and endured a very hot run leg which was around 32˚C at the start.
Tri Preston had five athletes at the Outlaw on 27 July 2014, where all finished and the performance of the day came from Duncan Anderson, who stormed home in 9:58, 29th overall.
The season finale was at Challenge Weymouth on 15 September 2014. Not content to rest on their respective laurels from Roth, our very own Mr & Mrs Challenge (Lee and Carol) took a late entry to Challenge Weymouth and were rewarded with a challenging open-water swim.
The Saturday picture contrasted starkly with the Sunday experience, where safety dictated that the swim distance had to be cut as they set off amongst the six-foot waves! Despite this, both came home in great times.
In all, Tri Preston had thirty-five athletes in five different Ironman/long-course races, about a third of whom were novices at the full distance. Of all the TPers who’d entered long course events, only two withdrew (one stress fracture, one due to work commitments) and out of all the starters only one did not finish (and that was someone attempting Bolton only 21 days after completing Austria).
All the first-timers finished. We’re a tough lot in Lancashire and, to quote Ironman, “anything is possible”.
Tri Preston continues to grow and is up to almost 150 members. So how does the team plan to follow the 2014 success? In 2015 we are focussing on middle distance and will have 68 (almost half the club) competing at the Outlaw Half. Just getting us all entered was an achievement. So look out for the teal green team on 31 May 2015 and give us a cheer. Go Tri Preston!