Ironman Staffordshire 70.3
Going through the process of signing up for events is relatively simple – foolishly, there is little thought given to the actual event whilst completing the registration process. The travelling to the event, preparing kit, nutrition – these are all aspects of racing regardless of the distance. Attempting my first middle distance event, the process of registration, racking and the general preparation was new but very seamless, this process allows the athlete to focus on the event and begin to think about their performance. The moment this hit me was putting a red bag with running things into the transition tent – the sheer number of bags hanging there was the moment the event really dawned on me. The next day, I would race over 70.3 miles. The rest of the day was seen out with the Havering Tri team – many helpful conversations were had over dinner, these proved invaluable during the event and led to a restful night in preparation for race day.
An early alarm clock was immediately met with an enormous amount of food at an hour where the body is just not ready for it. Mind saying you must eat everything, body struggling to process what is happening. I found this so important knowing that my body appears to use energy at far beyond a normal human basic metabolic rate. We travelled to the start line together, there was a relaxed atmosphere amongst the group and this allowed me to feel confident that the day was going to be both enjoyable and successful.
Onto the bus to the swim start (still eating), once there we checked bikes and went through final race preparations. I find this period – between finishing preparations and waiting to start – the most useful as it allows you time to think about your race plan and ensure this is followed. Being with Mark Billyard during this time was excellent as we could talk through the apprehension and with Mark being vastly more experienced, I found this useful during waiting for our wave to start. Weeing in the wetsuit before entering the water (it was a rolling start) was the best advice Mark gave. Finally settled.
The swim was chaotic – I could not seem to find a rhythm at any point and found swimming through the wave in front challenging to navigate. However, with it taking the shortest amount of time it was soon over and following a smooth transition the bike leg began. The first part of the course required intense concentration, narrow lanes were littered with athletes moving at not the same speeds. Once the first few miles were complete, the course become more open and allowed athletes time to find their race pace. The bike leg was becoming enjoyable, I do believe at one point shouting after a downhill section, ‘This is bloody brilliant’, and this continued to around 45 kilometres – and then the rain came…
It was not just rain either, it was ‘Midlands’ rain’ which to someone from the south is much wetter and just generally more awful than the rain the falls in the south of the UK. However, knowing these are conditions I do relish during training and racing, I continued with the race plan and stuck to a consistent pace. If I was to be critical, during the very fast downhill sections of the course I could have committed more and gone slightly quicker but wanting to finish safely was the primary concern (according to race briefing) and this was achieved albeit with the concession of some time. Upon completing the bike leg, I was happy with the split and was looking forward to seeing what was physically and mentally left.
The run began with gusto around a loop approximately 7km with what I found out (after the first loop) a challenging hill climb half way around. The course encompassed trail and road running, the trail areas proving difficult with the heavy rainfall earlier during the race. Thinking about Mark’s advice before the race of water – cola – water at each feed station saw me through the first loop and I managed to maintain a good pace. Around 10km into the run things began to get more difficult and the pace slowed but seeing Lee Dale twice on the course (once with an attempted high-5 but my coordination was waning) meant I had just enough to see it through to the finish. Where at the finish line I swapped the customary two arms aloft for a simple one arm raise like a young Alan Shearer wheeling away during a goal celebration. Once the medal was collected, I sat for 45 minutes thinking about the achievement and nothing much else. The feeling afterward was precisely why these challenges are set upon and part of reflecting was to look forward in anticipation at the next one.
This was the first event I raced wearing club kit, while on the course there were numerous shouts of ‘go on Havering’ and this was a real motivator. Through my job as a Physical Education teacher, every day I try and send the message to young people about the importance of teamwork, of cooperation, communication, identity and such aspects associated with any sport. The fact these aspects of the event were so important during the weekend means I am able to further emphasise the impact of physical activity and sport to the next generation of sportspeople – this is vital in order for thoroughly excellent clubs such as Havering Tri to continue to grow.