For those who know me, or perhaps have read my blogs before, you will be aware that this is the year of the Half Iron Distance. My journey into Tri began 4 years ago, with a couple of sprints and a Bananaman ¾ Olympic distance – the following years have seen various Super-sprint, sprint and Olympic distances, to the point where I could decide to do a sprint three days before and just get on with it. This is generally to be considered A Good Thing, but I’ve found that unless I have an event to train for, I tend to slack off and do other things instead – and even the Olympic length no longer gave me “the fear” to motivate training. I need “the fear”. So I decided that I needed to step up a distance.
So late last year, I took some advice, bought the Fink book and did the intermediate training programme to see how it would go (see previous blogs for details). Off the back of this then entered two races in 2017: The Outlaw Holkham Half (with some club mates from #Racestrong Triathlon Club Woking), and The Vitruvian with some Fetchies (as a back-up to ensure I could at least complete the distance if it all went horribly wrong at Holkham).
With a plan in place to complete the Fink training plan on schedule, I was pretty convinced that I could manage the distance, and the the primary concern became that as this was all brand new, would the Fuelling & Hydration strategy in place allow me to complete the race?
The plan was:
Get up with the sun, spray P20 everywhere.
Porridge + Rice pudding up to 2 hours before swim. Water up to 30 mins before swim.
Gel as wetsuit on.
Swim : aim for an easy 45 minutes
T1: Clif Bar. Water / electrolyte.
Bike: Stay in upper Z2. Spin up the hills.
Constant drip feed of Electrolyte drink + water.
First 2 hours Clif / SIS energy bar every 30 minutes.
Last hour + change, switch to Gels and water.
Assuming 3h 15m, but aim to get off the bike with some reserve left in the tank.
T2: Gel. Socks on. Top up P20.
Run: Try and stay in upper Z2.
Jelly baby every km. Water at water stations.
Total time: 6~7 hours.
The Fink book has an entire chapter on goal setting, and although I didn’t follow it to the letter, I did come up with okay / better / best plans which ran something along the lines of:
Okay: Survive. Don’t end up in medical tent. Don’t drown. Don’t crash. Walk some of the run if that’s what it takes. Any finish is a good finish. Mechanical failures happen, it’s okay to just finish.
Better: Not last in age group. Minimal walking on run. No bonking. No dehydration. Time starts with a 6.
Best: No mechanicals. Have enough to go sub 2h on run. Go sub 6h overall.
Holkham is quite a long way away from where I live in Surrey, and it was decided pretty early on that camping at the event was the way to go, especially as this was fast becoming a Racestrong Social event as well as a MOAAR. In the end there were five of us who signed up.
All three groups ended up booking camping for all 3 days – although one one pith staed for all three days and in reality, after Sunday anyone could have joined in as all of the security had upped and offed.
Serendipitously, #1 son had a Scout Camp an hour south of Holkham for the duration, so the three of us (myself, wife, daughter) had a tent, and rocked up on the Friday along with Mr and Mrs Smith (who arrived a bit later). We also brought a second tent and quietly pitched it in the spot next to ours to reserve it for the third group who had decided to arrive on Saturday instead.
Holkham isn’t a full time camp site, and allegedly this is one of only two events which allow camping at the venue (history fails to relate which the second is), and this showed as the camping facilities were basic: port-a-loos, temporary showers (that occasionally ran out of water) and no washing up facilities.
There were also some pretty strict rules: no glass (roundly ignored), no BBQ or fires (everyone just used camping gas devices), no music (it wasn’t that sort of clientele).
Some of the stress could have been alleviated by having an on-site coffee / tea / oatmeal van man, but this wasn’t done. I’ve suggested it for next year, we’ll see if that bears fruit.
Overall it was worthwhile camping on site – we could have gone to a proper camp site for less money a mile or so away, but that would have involved dealing with the traffic and parking on Sunday. I think it made the whole thing feel a bit more like a holiday. Plus there was ample catering on and off site, and entertainment on site for both the wife and the six year old – there is a great outside playground that she seemed to spend most of her time in.
Registration, Race briefing, Racking
Registration and the ‘race expo’ were open on the Friday, so after setting up a camp or two, I wandered over to have a look. Registration was deserted (I think I may have been the first one there) so it was very quick to get my race pack and wander through to have a look at the expo and transition.
Expo wasn’t anything to write home about: quite a lot of outlaw branded merch, triathlon essentials (from goggles to gels to tri suits – in case you’d forgotten anything, you could also buy a P5 should your heart desire it) ranging in price from reasonable to exorbitant. We bought the girl a ‘future outlaw’ hoodie as she was short of warm clothes. Nothing else really piqued my fancy.
Friday night involved fish & Chips at Wells-next-the-sea.
Made my way to transition after spending some time stressing at the family as we try and enjoy a bike ride around the estate. Transition wasn’t the free for all I was concerned it may have been. Every competitor had their own space and the stickers were orientated in number order and so that you knew where and which way to rack – provided you actually knew which way to rack of course. Apparently I didn’t, as my bike was turned around at some point. Bike racked, it was time to go & enjoy the sunshine.
After spending some more time stressing at the family, I headed to a suitable race briefing (and incidentally, nice clean well stocked indoor toilet) which was 45 minutes long and took us through the course, rules, cut-off times, race tattoos (completely optional) and generally what to expect. Contrary to BTF rules, we are allowed to run down the finish chute with our offspring should we want to. Will suggest that to the girl, she may like it.
Back to camp, dinner involves setting off for a pub 10 miles down the road to see some friends I haven’t seen in 10 years. Good times.
Arriving back, have a mass tattoo application session with some B2P bodies who are friendly with one of our number. Apply chamois cream to the tri suit. I could be faffing for England at this point. Transition bag packed. What have I forgotten? Check the timing chip is in the top of the bag at least four times. Charge watch on a spare battery pack.
The alarm went off at 0500 – although I was already awake and panicking slightly. Go outside. Spray P20 liberally all over naked torso, legs. Heat up porridge on the stove whilst the sun screen dries. Neck porridge with chia and raisins, as well as two Ambrosia rice puddings. Damn, forgot to buy bananas. Too late now. Gareth makes a brew. What a nice man. Quick visit to port-a-loos is disturbingly unproductive, hope that doesn’t come back to bite me later on.
Into tri suit. Liberally apply body glide and slip into lower half of wet suit. Mrs Smith doesn’t start until 0730 so four of us leave her at the camp and head down to transition. Drop off kit under the bike. Attach timing chip, start watch, make sure GPS has located where we are. Stop GPS track. Check nutrition is in place, neck gel as per plan.
Head to bag drop. Final photo before the race, we’re all still smiling.
The others, being youngsters, are all in the second wave (white caps) immediately behind the elites, so we wander over to the swim entrance together. They leave me and are herded into the water. The elites start at 0627. Three minutes later the white caps are off.
Make friends with a random who does up my wetsuit and we are called into the pen. Follow the same route into the lake as my compatriots. The water covered ankle deep (sometimes deeper) sludge, and was at its deepest about 4 feet. The water itself was completely opaque having been churned up by the previous two waves. Must remember to try not to swallow any.
The silver caps consisted of M40-44 and the relay teams. I don’t know how many swimmers there were, (I would guess at 180 Vets and about 100 relay teams) but it seemed like an awful lot spread out at the start.
Swim – 00:42:20 (AG Cat 126)
The horn finally went and we were off. I’d positioned myself at the back nearest the left hand buoy in an attempt to not get caught in the middle of the melee of the mass start. Failed – after a few minutes I was trapped swimming at a too slow pace in a massive block of swimmers with nowhere to go. The usual friendly violent fun of being swum over, occasional kick caught ensued. Nothing too malicious, anyone who has been there knows what it’s like.
The water was too opaque to even really see bubbles which makes deliberately drafting awkward without toe tapping constantly, although we were packed in so tight it was difficult not to draft. I just wish we’d been going at a slightly faster pace.
The tight pack is exacerbated as we pass into a narrow formed by an island, then finally there’s some open water as we double back on ourselves. Go deliberately a bit wide to get away from the scrum. Manage to not swallow too much water.
As we turn back I start to cramp in the calves. Then it moves to the hamstrings. Concentrate on just spinning my arms and relaxing. Alleviates itself without needing to stop & stretch. Start kicking again. Cramp niggles throughout the remainder of the swim. Over take my first white cap who is doing breast stroke.
Turn left at final buoy and onto wooden ramp out of the water. Suddenly I can’t stand, legs have locked up and cramped completely. Concerned marshals congregate. Pause to stretch. Must keep moving. Hobble towards transition.
T1 – 00:03:42 (AG Cat 99)
As soon as I start moving the cramp subsides.
As I pass the port-a-loos a familiar voice is heard screaming my name and generally making a racket like only my wife can. I love her in this moment more than I can express.
Get to bike. Wetsuit off, race belt on, neck a Clif bar and some electrolyte drink. Start putting shoes on. Fuck. Cramp. Again. No socks. Stamp feet into shoes, helmet on, I’ve got a cycle top but it looks like it will be warm enough without. Grab bike and run towards the mount line. Cramp subsides again and thankfully doesn’t rear its ugly head again for the rest of the race.
Bike – 03:03:18 (AG Cat 95)
Mount bike and we’re straight off up a hill that will feature heavily during the run race. Along the coach access road and head out of the estate.
The surface is a bit rubbish: they’ve swept, allegedly, but there’s still detritus all over the road. See the first puncture as we leave the access road and join the main highways and byways of Norfolk.
Turning left a couple of times and we’re on familiar roads that go past the entrance to Holkham we’ve been using. Surprisingly I’m overtaking quite a large number of low numbered riders (e.g. the white caps) and also relay team members (you can tell from the number range and the race number is different).
The road surface doesn’t really improve and there is a slow but steady stream of dead bikes being repaired at the side of the road. The course is rolling with some surprising lumps (given it’s Norfolk) to get up. As planned I try not to attack them too aggressively, but let the gears do the work.
Passing Lee far earlier than expected I get to yell “Woah, Sixty Nine Dude!” at him. It’s good to have friendly faces on the course. Even if it’s me. Probably.
It’s at about this point that the higher numbers (wave 4, who started 15 minutes later than me) start to pass on their carbon steeds. Good on them. Some pretty good looking bikes in there.
At this point it feels very much like a closed road sportive – there are plenty of marshals on the course and the motorbike support are in attendance. There aren’t that many cars on the Norfolk lanes and all the dangerous junctions have lollipop men stopping traffic on them. It’s brilliant.
We seem to have quite a lot of drafting going on (at least, sitting much closer than the required ten meter gap). I doubt it makes much difference other than at the pointy end, so I’m not going to let it bother me, but I was careful not to deliberately draft. The feed stations were much quicker than your average sportive mind: dump your old water bottle (note to self, next year, pack an old bottle you don’t mind ditching) yell ‘water!’ (or ‘High Five’ if you want an energy drink) and grab one without stopping.
We seemed to be heading into the wind on the first half of the bike course. This changes suddenly was we pass Sandringham, wave to the Queen, pass half way and jump on an A-road. This is even more brilliant: it’s flat (maybe even slightly downhill), following wind, the road surface is smooth as a baby’s bottom. Get an extended period on the tri bars for the first time and really belt along. Some gentle slopes ruin the effect a bit after a while but it’s good to get some decent speed up.
Up until this point the food and hydration plans are going according to plan. Gobbling a clif or SIS bar every half hour, but at the 2 hour mark I just can’t be bothered to force anything down: I’m just not hungry. I feel good though so let the legs spin and eat up the miles.
As we approach Fakenham there’s a sharp left and we’re back onto country lanes and I’m off solids and on to liquids & gels only for the last hour and change.
Suddenly, hard left, and we’re back on a familiar road. Massive grouping as we all jostle for position but there are just too many bikes in a small area, and the average pace drops until we make a tight right back onto the access road and towards transition. Get stuck behind a TT bike with sold rear wheel going at a pace my gran would ride at – and she’s dead. Can’t get past as half of the road is blocked off and runners are on the other side. Cripes, this really is quite narrow. Arrive at the dismount line. Unclip. Glance at watch. I’m back 10 minutes earlier than planned, a sub 6 is on if I can do a sub 2-hour half marathon.
T2 – 00:02:21 (AG Cat 70)
Run to my transition spot. Rack bike. Take off shoes. Hang on, what the hell has happened to my left big toe? There’s blood everywhere. Sod it. Socks on. Shoes on. Helmet off. Remember to turn my race # around (finally!), no time for sunscreen reapplication, must get going. Gel, swig of electrolyte. Jog towards run out. Legs feel good, all those brick sessions have paid off. Bless Fink, he may have something after all.
Run – 01:58:11 (AG Cat 78)
Pass on by the first feed station immediately exiting transition: there are four on the 7k loop and I’ve just taken on hydration at T2. Turn gentle left, and then, now then. This hill. We’re presented with an undulating slope that goes on for about a km. It’s paved with a grass siding. There seem to be a lot of people walking this bit. Oh well, jog on.
A familiar voice is suddenly heard from a bike heading the other way: ‘Go on Dougal!’ – it’s Gareth, when the hell did I pass him? Has he had a mechanical? Then my wife and daughter are on the side of the road yelling in support. It’s so good to see them. My legs feel a little bit lighter for a second or two.
First km notification on watch beeps, open bag of jelly babies. Oh bugger, they’re all stuck together – must have got wet at some point. Eat one. Turn sharp left and find second feed station.
The rest of the lap is a mixture of hard pack, “sort of off-road” and pavement. Thankfully they’ve boarded over the cattle grids.
A pattern starts to emerge at each and every feed station: grab a water, neck it, grab a sponge and wipe face (or squeeze out of head and feel the salt wash off my head) then stick it down front or back of tri suit and let it dribble into suit to supplement sweat, try not to slow down.
Kilometre alarms go off, mental calculations give me about 5:30 time to get in at under 2 hours. I’m running at about that pace. I can do this.
Then the fuelling strategy failed. After about 5k (certainly before the end of the first lap) I started to feel gassy and quite frankly, I was concerned that if I let a fart go it could have lumps. Simply couldn’t take on more refined carbohydrates – not a problem, I’m well fuelled I think, I have some left in the tank, I’m just going to have to hope for the best and risk it. If I bonk and have to walk, so be it.
Approach end of lap one, pass a board that makes me smile “You’re doing great, You look fantastic!” – pass the exit chute, grab my rubber band (you need two to enter the exit chute) and fresh water and sponge from feed station. Ditch the now useless jelly babies. Oh sod it. That hill again.
There’s a man from Tri-Anglia club just ahead, going at mostly the right speed, pull alongside, we run in silence for a few minutes.
“This sodding hill.”
“Urgh, I know.”
“That woman with the Bells is blah-blah-blah, she’s qualified for Kona.” Huh. Who knew? (Apart from him, obviously).
An easy, if jilted conversation is struck up. We run comfortably for the second lap together. There are a lot of Tri-Anglia supporters so I drink in the cheers by approximation.
Also at the end of the second lap is my wife: “I’ll be at the finish in about 40 minutes” is yelled, somewhat optimistically. I’ve slowed a bit. I lose Tri-Anglia on the hill. He edges away slowly. Have I blown it?
Towards the end of the final lap I see Mr Smith with his ‘GBR – HUNTER’ tri suit. Ha! GBR – HUNTED is more like it, harris slap or pinch do we think? A slap may put him on his arse so I opt for the finger up the bum hole routine, which work extremely well. He is somewhat disappointed to learn I’m about to finish.
I seem to have gained a friend from Dorset of all places. I’m not sure how we started talking to each other. I may have been a bit fatigued at this point.
Entry chute is in sight, try and locate my daughter in the finishing line, there she is! Holding hands we charge down the chute and over the line.
Looking up I see six oh something on the clock – accept I failed to get under six hours. My run can’t have been fast enough. My daughter wants a hug. I can’t pick her up. I wouldn’t want to hug me, I’m a sweaty mess in a tri suit. Collect medal. Timing chip is collected. Sheppard daughter back to her mother. She and I share a teary moment.
Grab alcohol free beer, go and join the queue for the sports massage.
Overall – 05:49:52 (AG Cat 87)
In my fugue I forgot that the I started 15 minutes after the clock time, and in the hour I spend waiting for a sports massage it sinks in that Garmin thinks this is a sub-six half iron. A text to Greg and he confirms the official time.
87 of 182 M40-44
424 of 956 Males
476 of 1244 Overall
Link to overall results:
In the queue for the massage I take my sock off. There is general revulsion at the state of my toe. Grabbing a handy sponge (that’s still down my tri suit) and some spare hand sanitiser, I give it a bit of a wash through. Stings a bit.
The massage is great, but I’m not sure it was worth the hours queue. However, a nice little sit down for an hour was appreciated.
Grab my finishers shirt, some food, a cup of coffee, then head out to find my mates and my wife.
Swag, Photos, Etcetera
Nice t-shirt. Different men & women designs that annoys Claire. I can see why.
Lots of free Erdinger. Free post-race food is acceptable but nothing special.
Photos are EXPENSIVE – and in my case, not very good.
Do a proper warm up and some stretching before getting in the water. May help reduce the cramps. It can’t be any worse.
Fuelling generally works, but I overdid it a bit on the gels & sugar. Hydration was about right.
Don’t skimp on the sun cream in T2. I ended up with a lobster pink neck, despite liberal application of P20 factor 50.
This weekend was probably the highlight of 2017 – I could not have asked for better weather. I love camping. The entire atmosphere was extremely warm and welcoming – all the athletes and hangers on were there to have a good time. The marshals were friendly. The ethos of the event was right, and the setting was beautiful. I loved it.
I’m already planning on it again next year.