Ouch! That was a seriously long day in the office .... but I have crossed the finish line .... and it feels GOOOOOD!!!
I signed up for IM UK, held in Bolton, not long after completing IM Austria, back in 2017. Although I had a great day in Austria, I crossed the finish line with more questions than I had when I stood on the start line!
So, Ironman is a brand, a pretty famous one, that are mostly known for their half and full distance triathlons, laid on all around the world. They have their own World Championship, held in Hawaii and many kudos are given to anyone who trains hard enough to stand on one of their start lines ready for action.
The Ironman challenge is a full distance triathlon which consists of a 3.8 km swim, followed by 180 kms on the bike and then 42 kms of a marathon at the end, just to stretch the legs. Whatever angle to approach one of these events, there is no getting around it, it will test you!
So, this was my second IM. I was due to attempt this one last year but backed out due to an accident on the bike. Timing is always an interesting element and as I was expanding my coaching knowledge and certification at that time, I decided to practice what I preach. I wrote the full Post- Season, Pre-Season and Race Programs and said I would follow them, as much as possible, to the letter. These programs are in Training Peaks (https://www.trainingpeaks.com/my-training-plans/nick-okhane-coaching), which means I could record and track progress.
At Austria, my first IM, I had a fantastic time, but on a performance basis, I made a royal f**k up of it. The list was massive:
Like I said, massive!
So my goals this time were to fix those lessons and IF I could fix those, maybe I could look at learning how to actually race one, instead of the completion I was targeting.
I was pretty good during training. It is a massive workload and you really need to focus if you want to arrive on the start line, with the right bag of tools to finish one of these tricky little suckers. But I stuck at it and race day arrived.
I knew that this was going to be a very different challenge in terms of terrain. IM UK is a tough bike course, and the run is 4 loops of a gradual hill. "If you are comfortable, back off!" was my mantra. The theory being that during training, you will very rarely complete the full distance of the various elements, and training being what it is, you will push hard. Therefore your accepted levels will be slightly elevated .... so when you have to link all three together, you will need to pace much more conservatively!
I was NOT there to race! I was there to learn!
I placed myself in the 1:15 overall time swim group of the rolling start. I had always planned to swim just off to the side of the masses and, again, stuck to my plan. The swim is two loops of the lake, with approx 100m where you get out, run through the cheering crowd and dive back in. I was extremely comfortable, swimming at my pace with my own coaching mantras going through my head .... "form and efficiency" and "if you try and swim, you will slow down". I actually ended up swimming over 4100 metres as I went too far around the edge of the masses but my moving time was averaging a 1:45 per 100m which was excellent for me.
Into transition, relaxed, changed, helped another competitor and on to the bike.
There was a long section from the lake to the loops of the bike ride. Natasha had not come down to the lake as the start was at "o" crack sparrow fart but she was waiting for me as I arrived to start the first loop .... admitted looking the wrong way but it was great to see her and this was also the starting point for the streams of supporters all round the course, that had come out to shout and wave. Bolton really does get behind this event and there are parties everywhere. I had promised that I would try and thank everyone supporting and spent the whole time, and I do mean the whole time, saying thank you!
After approx 90 minutes I was thinking, this is seriously f***ing tough! I tried to re-calculate my power, my energy levels, the times etc etc and ended up adding nearly 20% on! The bike ride was going to be brutal .... and it was! It is hard to make decision like this. Accepting you will take 1 hour + more than you "hoped" whilst in a race with everyone doing their own thing, at their own pace, and re-calculating for their own race; it is a massive challenging discipline. It is a bit like the joke that runners make that when someone passes you whilst out training, the presumption is they have not run as far as you!
Nutrition! I forgot to add this when I first wrote this piece! This time I made sure I got the fuel in I needed. Fenland Runner supplied me with BORN Superior Sports Care Isotonic Drink mix, which I placed in my two bottles on the bike and drank one before the start. I have an issue with these in general, that I don't know how to refill them on route? I don't want to stop and have the powder blowing everywhere, so I took the iso made available. I drank one bottle per hour, and I alternated between one energy bar and one gel every half hour.
Error Number 1 .... So the bike was the first of a few errors that I made; not major errors but errors none the less. I had trained on my TT bike all year round as I had decided to ride it in the race. However, I had done a lot of that training on a turbo trainer. The simple fact was, I was not good enough to ride that course on a TT bike. The endless hills left me short a gear or two, going up, and were so steep coming down, I was using nearly all of my strength and effort holding on to the brakes. Even some of the "proper" TT riding competitors were struggling. There were people on the side of the road with injuries. The percentage of people who did not finish IM UK this year was higher than ever and I believe that was mostly down to the bike course. I'm not complaining, IM is supposed to be tough, but it does remind you to not ever underestimate the challenge you have taken on and the discipline and pacing skills you will need to complete it. 2500M of elevation on technical bumpy roads .... the marathon coming up could not come soon enough!
So 7 hours later, the ride came to an end. I don't remember ever being in the saddle for that long and my ass was already putting my bike on eBay without my permission! Into transition and the relief of taking off your cycling shoes, putting on some trainers and allowing your ass to hang free! I had paced the bike well, and my legs, although aware I had just ridden the hardest 180kms of my life, felt not too bad. A 4 and half hour marathon was potentially doable .... as per the re-adjusted plan.
Natasha and my good friend, Steve (drove all the way to see me drag my sorry slow ass around the run course! Thank you!) were there as I came out of T2 and hugs and cheers added to my beaming smile. I am pretty sure I smiled all the way round the whole day although I am sure someone will have a photo of me looking like a bulldog eating custard!
Error Number 2 .... prior to Ironman, during training I had started working with Fenland Runner and testing their Alphawoolf range of shoes. Not listening or reading the superb advice given, I over-trained (mileage wise) in my preferred shoe which was designed for shorter distances. This had caused damage to the soles of my feet and also forced me to start running in the correct choice of shoe only one week before. My feet were already sore when I got off the bike .... My own fault! The new shoes, Alphawoolf Omegas were superb! One tiny blister probably due to my form dropping off. Nothing was going to stop the pain in the soles of my feet. Don't buy shoes just because you "like" them .... make sure they are the right shoe for the job first!
The run course is 4 laps of what feels like an endless uphill drag but nearly every inch has supporters waving, shouting and offering some of the best motivational and funny boards .... "Tap For a Power Up", "Don't worry, you'll never be slower than Brexit" and all the kids looking for high fives. Running through the town, I remember I did not see a kid's hand out until I had just past him, and his little face sank but lit up as I stopped and went back to high five him .... the crowd cheered! It was a great moment.
Error number 3 coming up .... a good friend of mine, Rob, was also racing that day. I started to get comments from my supporters that I was catching him. "I am not here to race, I am not here to race, I am not here to race" .... the next thing I know I have sped up and his tri suit is coming into view. Well, I can't just stop there; I might as well go past and I did .... f**king idiot! This was on the third loop. I did not need to do this; if I had continued to run at the pace I was at, I probably would have caught him anyway. That extra push was enough for me to know the last loop was going to hurt .... and it did. I could feel my form dropping and I started to walk the steeper hills. Head down, Nick, keep going ....
Rob came back past me with approx 1 mile to go. He said for me to stay with him but I was happy to let him go and just plod my way to finish line .... the famous red carpet and the words "Nick, you are an Ironman!". As cheesy as you may think this sounds, it is absolutely awesome to hear and feel.
Overview of improvements, lessons learned and successes:
Swim last time average 2:12 per 100M .... this time 1:45 per 100m (moving time)
Fuel last time #fail .... this time bang on!
Run last time nothing left after the bike .... this time perfect apart from getting into a race!
Pacing last time, went out like a bullet .... this time disciplined and balanced.
Training last time was inconsistent and race heavy .... this time balanced and focussed on my A race
A 4 hour marathon this time was a huge improvement given the bike and helps me believe there is a much faster one .... next time! 😉