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UK Ironman, Sherborne, Dorset. 21st August 2005

Swim over with
First hill hits you in the first couple of miles
Run turnaround, Montacute House
Finish line

Driving down to the race at 3.30am it was obvious things weren't going to go to plan. There were thick pockets of fog all around the venue and once we arrived there was another sitting over the lake. This caused the planned 6am start to be delayed. That wasn't unexpected as it'd happened for the half Ironman in 2003 and everyone took it very well. However, 7am came and went and there was still no sign of the fog lifting. The organisers called us down to the lake edge and everyone abandoned their swim bags and left transition. The sun popped up above the horizon but the fog still hadn't cleared and we were held there for a long time. So long in fact that I'd become quite cold and decided to go back to transition and have a drink from my bike bottle and a run up and down to warm up. I have trouble with cramp in my legs during the swim so I wanted to take every step to keep this at bay. After chatting and another loo visit a big cheer went up from the people still queuing so I guessed the OK had been given to get in for the start. This was around 8am and plenty of people were very concerned about their feed strategy. However, safety must prevail. One tactic the organisers used to clear the standing fog was to hover a huge helicopter over the lake. But once I'd swam out the start line I couldn't hear what the starter was saying over the noise from the rotors. After a few minutes everyone started swimming so I started my watch and started swimming myself, I didn't hear a starting hooter and had no idea they'd had a false start.

I had no real tactics for this race, it's my second Ironman of the year and there wasn't enough time between races to address the weaknesses from the first race. My motivation for the event was low and the only reason I could think of to take the start was to gain more experience and knowledge for my winter training. After swimming the first 200m a bit of space appeared and I tried to settle into my swim stroke. My shoulders felt really heavy and ached quite a bit, I was already getting thoughts about pulling out and started to struggle. Half way down the first length (it was two laps of a long narrow lake so effectively 4 lengths of the lake) everyone make a sudden turn to the right. I had no idea why as I couldn't see where I was going because we were swimming towards the sun - at least the fog had now gone! At the end of the length I checked my watch and it said 20 minutes exactly. I spent a good portion of the next length calculating my swim split and because I'd set my mind to work on other things my shoulders stopped aching and I started to swim quite well, maybe the aches were the effects of waiting for the start and now I'd warmed up it'd gone. At the second turn buoy I checked my watch again - 40 minutes. Up the third length I decided to up the pace and really try to get under my calculated 90 minute swim time, however at the third turn I checked my watch and it said 60 minutes. So all that extra effort went no where! Down the fourth length I suffered with a squashed 'plumb' which wasn't nice and I did my best to pull my wetsuit away from that area but it didn't help. I figured I'd take it easy down the final length and finished the swim in 1:26:45, so a fraction faster than 90 minutes.

Once I'd sorted myself out in T1 and went out on the bike I felt quite good. The first part of the course is the same as the half Ironman from last year so I knew what to expect. Once over Lyons Gate I decided to increase my effort to see what happened (to gain knowledge!). I seemed to make up a lot of places and felt I was one of the people who over took me at Austria while I was sticking to my race plan. However, I continued pushing along and made it to 50 miles in 3 hours. Shortly after that you turn off the south loop and head back to the castle. Passing the castle the support was excellent and gave me more encouragement to hold my faster pace. But a little after that the road goes up and seems to keep going up for a very long time. Past the narrow lane and onto the main road back to the A303 and the hills kept coming. By the time I made it to the north loop I was shot. My legs ached but not that badly, my main problem was a achy bottom. I was having problems staying seated while climbing but my legs weren't strong enough for me to stand and cycle. Once you make the start of the north loop you're greeted with a long climb that seems to go on and on. That felt a lot harder than it really was and I just plodded up at a very slow pace. Once at the top I decided to stop and take a pee-stop. That helped and my bottom felt much better and I pushed on again at my faster pace, but the pains soon came back and I started to struggle again. More thoughts of pulling out crossed my mind but I continued. I didn't have a good reason to continue and I really didn't think I had a run in me so I questioned why I was still going if the effort is for nothing but without any place to actually stop I just went on. At the end of the second north loop you're directed back to the castle and lots more hills. There really is no where on the course where you can relax from the hills, it's all up/downs/left/rights and very technical, lots of gear changes and mentally challenging. It seemed like a very long time until I arrived back at the castle but passing Michele helped pick me up quite a bit and I entered T2 actually looking forward to the marathon and glad to get rid of the bike.

Once out on the run I decided to put into practice a theory I'd been working on: To run the downs, walk the ups and do what I felt like on the flats. Once out of town the road goes up so I stopped jogging and started walking. It actually felt fine walking as part of a strategy and I didn't feel guilty at all so enjoyed the moment. At the top of the hill I started running again. I continued like this until we made the disused railway section by the sports centre that was totally flat for many miles. I stopped every now and then to chat which broke up the effort but on the whole I was getting through the run feeling pretty good. Once out of the railway section you get back onto a main road that's also pretty flat and straight. I ran all the way down there even though I was sure it was actually an 'up'. At the end of that road I met a friend who said it was under a mile to the turn point, a quick check of the watch said I'd get there in a pretty good time. The actual half split was 2:15 which I took encouragement from as the homeward journey would be the same sort of run. As I started back to the castle the sun was setting which also made me feel good, the temperature started to drop which made it much fresher and was a welcome break from the heat of the day. The journey back was pretty uneventful and went well with the exception of the falling darkness. On some sections it was already difficult to see your way and the people behind would no doubt have difficulty seeing their way. Once I was back on to the duel carriageway it was difficult to see my footing. I had to take it for granted that I wasn't going to tread on anything but that's very unnerving. I seemed to be overtaking a lot of people during the last 6 miles and everyone seemed to be walking. I plodded on and got back to the castle where I took a little walking break to compose myself for the finish line.

Running through the line in 13:45 and I was very pleased with myself. I'd taken 13 minutes off my Austria run time even though I allowed myself to walk and off the back of a much harder bike leg. I've taken a lot more information from this race so in that respect it was worth doing. But I don't think I'll be doing it again in 2006, there were to many things wrong with the race to make me want to go back, things like the darkness on the run, the bike feed stations being on downhill sections and the lack of marshalls on the run.

Swim - 3.8km T1 Bike - 180km T2 Run - 26.2miles Total
1:26:45 4:33 7:20:57 4:20 4:48:38 13:45:15
Weather: Started cold and foggy but cleared to become a warm sunny day. Once the sun set it got chilly quite quickly. 797th out of 1134 finishers.
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