Last Sunday thousands of long-distance triathletes donned their wetsuits and headed for the start line of Ironman UK in Bolton. Of those athletes was one of On Running’s athletes, professional long-distance triathlete Toby Radcliffe.
It’s his fourth season racing as a pro and the lead-up to Ironman UK was less than conventional, with a three-day Indian wedding – of which he was participating as the groom – and a bike crash at Ironman Austria. Toby was the seventh pro to finish with split times of 49:53mins for the swim, 5:21:15 for the bike and a run PB of 2:48:53.
Here, Toby takes us through his thoughts on the day…
How did you feel race morning?
I was excited, but slightly nervous about the condition I was in. The month leading up to Ironman UK, I had been ill, crashed on the bike during Ironman Austria, over-trained a little and (on a positive note) got married. This was far from the perfect taper and I was pleased to be in a good state at the start-line.
How did you view your competition?
Stephen Bayliss is due to become a father, so he wasn’t racing and Phil Graves was out with an injury. This presented an opportunity and with an open field it was going to be interesting to see who would lead.
I hadn’t done a massive amount of research on the other pros, but I did know there was an Aussie [Aaron Farlow, who won] who would probably be a great swimmer, and who had competed in Alpe D’Huez long course triathlon the previous Wednesday so I knew he was either going to be brilliant or knackered. I was also aware of Romain Guillaume [who came second] who had placed well at a 70.3 the previous weekend. But apart from that it was anyone’s race to take.
What was your race morning preparation?
The race started at 6am, which was an hour earlier than many Ironman start times. This meant I was up at 3.10am. I had my usual pre-race breakfast of two white bagels – one with low-fat soft cheese and one with honey – a coffee and a yoghurt.
What was your race strategy?
I always lose a bit of time on the swim if it’s a good field, so my aim was to swim solidly without losing too much. I wanted to see a decent improvement in the bike split from last year – which I achieved – then my aim was to rely on the run to take me back through the field.
Running is my strength so I generally set up the race to run well.
What was your objective?
Other than to win?! My biggest worry was the fact I’d come off my bike on a downhill during Ironman Austria the month before. I’m not an amazingly technical biker anyway and I find myself a little wary of down hills so soon post-crash. My objective was still to beat my bike split from last year.
How was the weather?
The weather was great. It provided near perfect race conditions. It was overcast, around 20°C and though there was a bit of wind on the bike, the race conditions were great for Bolton. There was no fear of dehydration than if it were much hotter, which is always a bonus.
I tend to like it when it’s really hot. Everyone suffers in the heat and knowing that everyone is feeling the same (or worse!) makes you feel better, but I can’t complain about Sunday’s conditions.
What was the atmosphere like?
Pre-race, it was a bit like a party. I had a few friends come up to support and as I was getting up and preparing, they were coming in from a good night out. I spent about ten minutes with them before heading off for preparations and it was great to see them.
When I got to the race, it was very calm. There were not that many people I knew racing, which considering it’s Ironman UK was strange, but it was great to be calm.
During the race, the support on the course was fantastic. My wife was there providing me with split information and they had changed the run route so it went through the centre of town more. This meant more spectators, which is always a welcome boost. Thank you to all you hardy spectators!
What was your nutrition plan?
I try to take in 500 calories an hour, consisting of bars, gels and drinks. This worked well until I reached the second aid station on the run and the only thing they had was water. I prepared myself for the imminent energy slump. Luckily I had some emergency gels on me for situations just like these, but I do like getting coke and electrolytes in at aid stations wherever possible as well.
How did the swim go?
The pro field got a 10m head start, which wasn’t massive. The race started with the national anthem, followed by the starter horn. During the national anthem I was looking around to see what was going on and was not quite ready for the horn to go. I realised we were swimming and off I went.
I managed to hang on to the lead guys for 400 metres, but swam the rest of it alone. This is always an interesting predicament as you never know quite how fast you are going and you know you are losing time from not drafting.
I was a bit quicker than last year on the swim, but it still wasn’t quite a PB.
How did you feel getting out of the water?
It was a nice exit with grass and mats, the water was lovely and warm (unlike last year) and I felt okay. I didn’t know how many people were ahead, but when I heard Yvette Grice was half a minute behind I had a boost. She’s a great swimmer and last year we came out at the same time.
How was transition?
Transition was straight-forward and brief. There were no problems and I just got on with it. The volunteers were great and well practiced – sometimes you get an overexcited volunteer who throws your kit all over the floor in their enthusiasm and actually slow you down a little.
Having the tent pretty much to myself meant that there wasn’t any crowding or confusion as well – in one race a few years ago I couldn’t find my transition bag and wasted time running round racks – so try to remember where your bags are on the racks, as its harder than it seems to find them when you’ve just run out of the water and the transition area is swarming with other athletes!
How long did it take you to get into the flow of the bike?
Unlike Ironman Austria, the first section of the bike is slow. It’s all gently uphill all the way from T1 until you reach the bike loop so you drag all the way to mile 15-20. In Austria you are hitting 40km per hour easily from the beginning. At IMUK you have to keep a handle on expectations and I felt okay; no one was passing me.
Trouble came for me on the downhill. Following the crash on a downhill in Ironman Austria, I couldn’t help but brake and be even more cautious than usual. This lost me lots of time – it was very frustrating!
Despite being much quicker than last year, I was a little annoyed I hadn’t moved up through the field. I figured I was in the top ten, but had a sense I was losing time due to the down hills and I got off the bike knowing I had lots of work to do.
How was T2?
Even getting the compression socks on was quick and the whole transition process was great. I was incredibly happy to be off the bike and going into the run.
How was the run?
I got into the rhythm quickly. In April I competed in Ironman South Africa and got off the bike smashed. This prevented me getting into the run and I found myself at survival pace. I knew I never wanted to be there again and it was a huge relief to find things going well.
Within the first two kilometres I passed a couple of the guys. After that, I knew there was approximately a ten minute gap so I worked hard to reduce this, focusing on keeping fuelled and pushing through the hard patches.
At the end I’d reduced the gap it to 1 minute. I was very happy with my run, a PB (by over 3 minutes!) at 2:48:53. I’ve been racing in On Cloudsurfers and, combined with all my training, find them incredibly comfortable and very fast.
How did you feel after you crossed the finish line?
My first thought was irrational disappointment. But, in perspective, I was 20 minutes quicker than last year, came ninth and nothing had gone horribly wrong. You never cross the finish line 100% happy. If you did that, you’d never reflect and get better. I was definitely happy to get to the food tent.
I then went off and had some fish and chips, a massage, thanked my lovely wife and hit the pub with my friends.
What’s next for Toby Radcliffe?
I’m off to Wisconsin for my next Ironman [on 11 September].