Someone contacted me recently to say that they had been following the blog and enjoyed it (thank you, it’s a relief to know that someone is reading and enjoying) and asked if I had race reports of any of my Ironman races. I told him I would go and find them and post them up here over the next few weeks. I will start with my first attempt at qualifying for Kona at Ironman UK in 2011. I have changed it slightly editing a couple of spelling mistakes and adding a couple of small details so it’s a fairly accurate telling of the race while it was fresh in my mind. Of course my recollections of the day now five years later are slightly coloured by time. I still think this was one of my best executed races ever and one that taught me some of the most important lessons about racing Ironman. I have called it a race report despite the fact that pro triathlete Jesse Thomas warns against that here. I just cant think of another more exciting yet fitting title at the moment. I hope you’re not put off by it and that it brings some small bit of enjoyment to your day. Anyway lets get on with it.

Race Day

The weather was perfect, warm, overcast and forecasted to stay that way all day. I swam out for the deep water start and despite previous poor swim starts I took Aisling and my coaches advice and went right to the front. I started fast to try and get away from the scrum and quickly settled into a hard pace but one that I hoped I could maintain. I also tried to draft as much as possible in the swim. The water was quite warm and the swim went well. I really liked the Ironman Bolton swim, it was flat and easy. I didn’t see the clock and didn’t swim with a watch so didn’t find out till afterwards that I had a swim PB with a 1:02.

T1 was a bit of a disaster as I grabbed Aislings bag instead of mine and had to run back to change it. I then made a bit of a mess of shoes an helmet etc. It felt like I lost minutes but I think it was only about 50-60 seconds, it’s funny how any mistake feels like it’s much worse when the adrenaline is flowing and you’re rushing.

The Bike

I started steady on the bike. I’ve been doing all my bike training by perceived effort with no heart rate or power measuring at all while preparing for this race. I occupied my mind with steady pacing, my nutrition and riding as smart as possible. The first flat section went by quickly and faster than expected. I was constantly moving up through the field but had no idea how far. On the lapped part of the course I loved the climb and the descent and I knew both were an area to make up time so I pushed a bit harder. The next section of the course is rolling hills and I really settled into the bike here and the speed was again higher than expected. Most of the first lap was spent holding back so as not to blow up later. At 50k I started pushing and was still moving up the field. Having driven the course I knew there was a number of very technical sections that I needed to have clear road for. I knew that if I did I could ride them very fast and didn’t want to get held up so would occasionally surge to catch and pass riders. On the third lap I was still catching people but much less than before. I also reckoned I had passed some of the pro women including Desiree Flicker who was one of the pre-race favourites which made me think I was getting well up the field. This was a new experience for me and gave me a big boost.

T2 went a lot better than the first one getting in and out in 1:48 changing shoes and grabbing my run belt and a cap.

The Run

The first hundred metres is downhill which got the legs moving and I settled into a decent but slightly faster than planned pace. I felt good straight away and got into a nice rhythm. Ais had warned me not to push on the run for the first 10k, I forced myself to run easier than I felt I could and it was very hard especially if someone passed me but I stuck with it. It felt like I was running on a leash. Constantly straining to push on. The first section is rolling and I caught a couple of runners before getting onto the looped part of the course. There’s a section along a canal before getting out to the main part of the run course and it was along this section that I started to gradually pick up the pace. It wasn’t quite 10k in but I couldn’t contain myself any longer. I was catching an athlete in front of me and as I made the pass I surged a bit to get past and decided that I would hold onto the slightly higher pace just to see how it felt and it felt really good. I couldn’t believe how easy it all fely, I was gliding along and couldn’t wipe the huge grin off my face. At the end of the canal there is a short but very steep hill up onto the lapped part of the course and I slowed right down to a shuffle in an attempt to keep my effort under control and a much younger runner bounded up the hill past me making it look rediculously easy and in the process making me look old and slow. I kept my head down and stuck to the plan. He was either faster than me in which case I had to let him go or he was going too fast and in that case I would catch him again later in the day. As it happened much sooner than I expected. I passed him vomiting at the side of the road less than a kilometer later.
At this stage I felt really good and decided to push a bit more. I picked up the pace slightly and my gamin just kept on beeping telling me that I had another km done. I was loving the feeling of moving so well and I was still catching and passing people. At about 10k to go it was really starting to hurt but at that stage I just kept telling myself that I was almost done, keep pushing. I had also realised that I was way ahead of target and was likely to break 10 hours if I kept up my pace. The last 3k were very hard. I was really hurting and I started to feel sick as well as sore. But how many times can you say you only hurt for the last 3k of an Ironman?  It was short enough to suck it up and push through and I came in with 9:49:55 on the clock.

I still had no idea of placing so I went to get my phone, opening the athlete tracker it said I had finished 5th in my age group and 36th overall. I couldn’t believe it and the emotion just bursting out of me. It meant that with 7 provisional slots for Kona I should have qualified for the world championships automatically. I headed back onto the course to tell Ais and watch her finish and she was as usual the fastest person on the course and still with a huge smile. After she ran back out to complete her next lap I had to go somewhere quiet and private as I felt that all of the pressure from the last few months was about to burst out of me. I could feel tears and a lump in my throat as I sat in a doorway down a lane and just let the emotion and relief wash over me.

Ais was also on for a massive PB and finished in 11:40 which was 1h45 faster than her previous best time from IMUK in ’08 of 13h15. Along the way she set the third fastest women’s marathon time, beaten only by a couple of the pro’s and set PBs in all three disciplines as well as being the fastest Irish woman.

Later in the day I spoke to my coach on the phone and he told me the athlete tracker info was wrong and while I was still 28th overall (excluding Pro’s) I was actually 8th in my category not 5th. That meant I was relying on one roll down place. It was a long evening and even longer morning waiting for the results at 9:30. When we arrived we got 2 surprises Ais was actually in 4th in her category and they had added an extra slot to her age group, now she was now in line for a Kona roll down slot. The second surprise was that my age group had lost 1 slot and now only had 6. I needed two people ahead of me to not take them. In the end neither of us got the roll down both of us missing out only by 1 place but I got over my disappointment fairly quickly when it sunk in how well the race had gone. From 10h57 in IM Switzerland in ’09 to 9h49 on a slower course and with swim, bike and run PBs and finishing 28th overall was better than I could have hoped for before the start.

You can check out my current weekly training diary here as I detail exactly what training I’m doing in my attempt to get to Kona for the third time. 

Rob