Weymouth 70.3 Half Iron

Preamble

Friday

Arrive on Friday having taken the day off. Plenty of time on way down – pop into most excellent https://www.facebook.com/terraorganicsuk/ in Wareham on the way past to see a race buddy who is doing the bike leg in a relay team last minute.
Set off after lunch and drive to transition. Registration, it turns out, is in a different place to transition – should have read the instructions properly! Thanks to Adrian for a lift to the right place. Registration through the shop, inevitably, and in the back end of the pavilion, which will become more familiar as the weekend progresses.

Register (around 200th to do so) and handed bag with standard fare in it – now familiar three transition bags (red, white & blue). Told there were 2,300 athletes in total. Free bag is the same design as Marbella but in a fetching blue. Rather like the previous I’ve done, became the unofficial badge of “who’s racing” when about in the town.

Afterwards hang out until 1530 for the first race briefing in the pavilion’s auditorium.

Nothing really to note except that they expect it to be windy (duh!), but are still planning on running a full 70.3 race. The other advice I found quite useful was to take a picture of your kit, so I did.

Go and hang outside: fine sand good for sand sculptures but gets sodding everywhere. It’s sodding blowy but the sea is mill-pond flat. I can see why they think they can run the full thing.

Have a closer look at the finish chute.

 

Check into a static caravan park where we have an air-b’n’b reservation – it’s a bit further away than I wanted: probably should have brought Brompton or at least a scooter of some description to get to & from the town / transition.

Did some pre-race faffing and got the bags arranged and ready to go for the morning.

Saturday

Up early the next day – rode the bike over the hill to the bay and was almost the first into transition as wanted to get it over with.

Racked in numbered position and triangulated location. Wasn’t clear at that point where bike in & out were, and it looked like would be at a disadvantage as I’d have to go backwards to collect the bike. No real loss.

After a walk of the (not-insubstantial) Swim to T1 route I got chatting to some locals from ‘BustinSkin’ tri club about the changing weather forecasts over the last couple of days and weeks – they were all very friendly and bullish that the race would go ahead as a full 70.3 as unless the wind was from the east, generally the sea was pretty gentle in the natural bay.

Ran back to the caravan to time how long to give myself the next morning, then met up with club mates for coffee with the boy in Weymouth proper. Do some gentle wandering around Weymouth which is rather ruined by the increasingly heavy rain and driving winds.

Dinner is a RaceStrong Italian Pasta Party affair at https://www.facebook.com/EnzosWeymouth/ and then off to the caravan for last minute panicking alongside chamois cream and tattoo application.

Psychotically check the weather forecast one last time: rain at 100% for most of the swim & bike, wind looking strong all day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Race Day

Shortly before the alarm goes off, I’m woken by what sounds like a drunken monkey playing a drum solo on the roof. It’s just rain on the top of the caravan. Sigh. Roll over. Alarm goes off what feels like minutes later at 0500. Usual breakfast of porridge and rice pudding, washed down with a trail-wind caffeinated endurance fuel. For some reason we only had instant decaf coffee – something to add to the “Don’t forget” list for the next time I think.

Quick toilet stop. Vaseline everywhere, plasters where the suit will rub my chest. Poke my nose outside and it’s not raining! Get everything together and quickly head over the hill towards transition. Lots of people parking up and begin to feel a part of something.

Walk over to the bike to load nutrition. Over the sound of the howling wind I can just make out the sound of the PA: something about the swim – late start was it? Ask others, ah, it’s been cut in half (to 950m) and delayed until 0730.

I’m standing around in clothes that are going to be used at the end of the day and it has started to rain, so decide to pack up my white bag and just go in a wet-suit until the start. Hand over my bag then instantly realise I’ve still got my shoes on. D’oh. Get them squared away.

Wander over to the beach where I see a tri buddy who is confused by the shortened swim: I have to agree, the visibility is pretty poor because of poor light and some fog, but I can’t see any reason really to not be doing the full distance. Maybe it was too dark early due to the weather to do the set-up?

Line up on the black carpet with my fellow competitors: see Pete from Tribal, a couple of RaceStrong, Henry from work. Amble back towards the 40-minute rolling start mark and slowly get colder and colder. Teeth are chattering. Limbs are shaking involuntarily.

Stand around for what seems like ages. Probably about 40 minutes all told. It slowly gets busier. The pros go. We start to see a stream of swimmers set off an we shuffle like penguins towards the water edge. Crikey I need to pee. Too late now.

Pause at the water edge. Beep Beep Beep BEEP! We’re off.

Swim 950m (00:24:14 – 152 AG, 881st OA)

Running into the sea my first thought it “Oooh, that’s nice and warm” – not what you want when entering the Channel in September.

The swim was a shortened clockwise loop with yellow sighting buoys and large orange ones where you turned right.

My arms aren’t working properly, the co-ordination between stroke and kick is gone – I’m physically too cold, can’t get my legs kicking or my stroke rate fast enough. Decide to just turn the arms over to see how it goes and it does get better, but at no point do I really feel like I’m powering through the water: I’m always fighting something. Usually the rhythm of the waves I find easy to predict, or at least, react to so breathing’s on the ‘correct’ side without getting a mouthful of salt. Not today.

There isn’t any pack to speak of so it’s really difficult to get on someone’s toes and stick there. People seem to be going in all directions at once. Half of them doing breast stroke.

My mental acuity wasn’t the best and my sighting was all over the place. I seemed to constantly be on the right-hand side of the general consensus of where ‘ahead’ was and had to adjust left to avoid kayakers and the sighting buoys. I refrained from dropping to breast stroke.

The final leg was significantly better than the rest. I was warmer and warming to the task – finally I was timing the waves and beginning to feel like I was flowing rather than fighting.

Up to the shore and pause to let blood get to my head. Grabbed by friendly man to get me up and out the way. Up and over the timing mat.

T1 (00:10:18)

Over taken on the route up to transition as I bumble along. At this point I’m not too worried about time as apparently it took me 24 minutes to swim 900m (everyone’s garmin said 1200 odd, but it’s not actually all that important) and I still can’t feel my extremities properly.

Into the tent and locate my bags. Somehow, I press the ‘next segment’ button on my garmin as I’m taking the wetsuit off, which throws the time out.

By the time I was at swim start I was regretting not wearing my winter bike top to race in. But it was in the white bag for afterwards so there was no going back now. Just on with the short-sleeved top I did have.

I’d already decided to wear arm warmers and gloves but I’m stoked to find I accidentally packed my long-fingered gloves in my T1 bag. Result! They take a few seconds to get on over my cold & wet fingers but I’m sure they’ll be worth it.

Running outside I’m struck by the wind and how sodding cold it really is: and I’m more dressed for the part than most of my compatriots.

They’ve sealed off the direct route from the tent to the bikes so everyone has to get through the maze that is transition. Find the bike easily enough, and we’re out to the mount line.

Bike 90km (03:19:34 – 154 AG, 882nd OA)

Coming out of the relative seclusion of transition onto the open road and the weather really starts to bite. The wind feels viscous against my sodden gear. The rain is really coming down – it’s so windy and the rain so hard I can barely lift my face to see where I’m going. It’s not an exaggeration to say the rain is coming down in sheets.

Seems like we’re steadily climbing although the garmin plot tells a slightly different tale.

Turning inland doesn’t give much relief from the wind but the rain slows to something manageable.

Where the road surface isn’t an actual running stream of water, it’s covered in leaves, bits of twig, flint, carbon bike and other detritus washed on from the hedgerows. There are several places where it’s impossible not to ride through several inches of water.

I descend, unapologetic-ally, like a granny. The brakes aren’t liking this variation of sodden and cold – and neither do my hands. I’m struggling at this point to change gear and brake effectively.

The no drafting rule is a joke: there are far too many people on the course for the 12m rule to be practicable. From what I can tell no-one seems to care. Soldier on.

There are riders with dead bike strewn along the course. Mostly punctures, but some sad looking people walking the wrong way. There are also a LOT of bodies wrapped in blankets, sheltering in bus stops, marshals’ cars, pretty much anywhere there is shelter from the wind & rain. I don’t know what the drop out rate was, but it seems a fair attrition from where I’m riding.

It was somewhere around this point that my front derailleur gave me a heart attack: I changed down going up a hill and the chain caught and made a cringe-inducing BANG! Seemed to rectify itself until I tried to get back on the big ring. No joy. Stopped, prized it back out by gently bending, got it onto the big ring, hoped it didn’t happen again. Spent the rest of the ride feathering it to not have to make too many changes.

Somewhere at the northern apex of our ride I notice that it’s much lighter. I hadn’t really noticed it was dark until it wasn’t. I comment on this to the next rider I over-take, who immediately recognises me from briefing where we had to” shake hands with the person next to us”. I’m glad he’s good with faces.

My new best friend Dave and I trade places for the rest of the ride. Chatting away. At one point we get into a protracted conversation with a Kazakhstani called ?Darius? who I recognise from swim start. He will be bloody freezing as he’s only wearing a tri suit.

“Careful on the Hill”, says Dave, “You think you’re near the top and you aren’t, there’s a turn.” Cheers mate. I’ll see you at the top.

The “Only real climb on the course” is reached and is treated with probably too much respect. Some people are walking up it – makes me wonder what sort of training they’ve done.

Over the top we start the descent through some lovely countryside. At one point my arm warmers are back to neutral grey rather than the dark / sodden look, but that doesn’t last. There are some really long fast stretches of A-road that I just eat up gleefully. This ends at a sharp left turn and back onto country lanes. Stop for a wee. Has to be done.

I’m descending like a granny. Images of losing the front wheel on the road and cartwheeling into a hedgerow are too vivid. The weather is getting lighter: I see a patch of blue and Dave and I cheer.

Then we turn a corner and I see Weymouth in its glory. Not far to go. Bunch up again as we reach transition. A familiar voice is heard and I see my family for the first time. Exceptionally uplifting.

Almost clatter a guy as we’re getting off. Profuse apologising on both parts.

T2 (00:04:32)

Off the bike. Everything is still soaking. Decide to run in my cycling top despite the fact the sun is beginning to poke through with some vengeance now. Empty pockets, trainers on. Job done. Jog towards the ‘out’, wonder why so many competitors are stood around with 1,000-yard stares.

Run 21.1km (01:55:04 – 138 AG, 772nd OA)

Out of T2 I see my daughter who gives me the first high-five of the day. Out and back around the port-a-loos for another high-five and we’re on to the first of three and a half loops of what turned into a lovely run along the front.

I was pushing along at a 5-minute/km pace which I knew was too quick to be sustainable but just felt right. Seemed to be going past a lot of people which confused me slightly. Were they all better cyclists than me? They must have been.

I don’t think I’d been able to feel my feet since well before the start of the swim, and apparently I hadn’t bothered to pull my socks up – or so my feet told me about 20 minutes into the run when I could finally feel them again. I didn’t bother to stop to sort them out.

Each lap of the course and I’m seeing more people I know: Peter from Tribal, James and Adrian (who gets a cheeky harris grope for his troubles) – wave to Emma the supporter who gives me updates on the RaceString crew – and I can tell how far I’m through the run as my family are walking down the front towards the finish and I get to give them high fives all the way through the race.

There are plenty of food stations so there’s no chance of dehydrating or going hungry.

The whole front was awash with cheering spectators, although “Cheeriest Supporter” goes to Mr Dressed as a Cone man at the Southern turn, he was awesome.

I start to run out of energy with a lap to go – despite the fact I’m still able to take on the proffered bananas / cola / water all the way through. There’s no choice but to put my head down and take the pain. I really want a sub-2 to finish with and I know I’ve done enough provided I don’t blow up now.

Final high-five from the girl and it’s over the line.

Overall (05:53:41 – Gender 672, DIV 138/260, Overall 763/1933)

A very nice lady peels back the sock and calf-guard combo (which are absolutely caked in rubbish and muck from the road) to retrieve the timing chip. I’m sort of glad it’s still there to find.

The queue is too long for food and I’m not hungry, so grab my bag, change into something civilised and head out to find the family.

Ruminations

Going by the numbers, about 350 odd DNF – I’m surprised it wasn’t more.

Comparing my overall swim time to those around me I shouldn’t be too dissatisfied with the time but I know I should have been faster: although a minute or two in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that bad, but there was a mental collapse at the thought that I’d only done half distance and I’d wanted a time closer to 22 minutes and so I should take it easy and just not worry.

The blister plaster where the tri suit rubs was brilliant as it stuck fast and didn’t annoy me at all.

I could have done the bike faster on the descents if I’d ridden the course previously and wasn’t so worried about crashing. Perhaps I should spend some more time going down the hills as well as up them.

I’m happy with the run. I can’t believe I got sunburn though!

The weather made this a tougher event that I was expecting, but the support on the run was outstanding.

Post Script

Met with Stuart, Emma and the family for a quick drink afterwards, sat in the sun at the tail end of the course, shouting encouragement to the runners (especially those I know Adrian!) and enjoying what is actually a fantastic atmosphere.

Traffic was murder on the M3 on Monday morning at 0600 mind you.

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