One last hurrah – Weymouth 70.3

Firstly – thank you. Thank you to all those people who read my first blog. Secondly, thank you to all those who messaged me publicly and finally sorry. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get round to the next one. It’s been almost finished for some months. I’ve just not got round to it. I want to blog more in 2018. But before I do, the final instalment of 2017.

It had been a long season.

I started formally training for Frankfurt on 28th October 2016.  I’ve had a structured plan from a coach throughout and before July, I missed 5 sessions over 8 months.  Each week I would complete at least 3 swim, 3 bike and 3 run sessions alongside 2 strength sessions – so 11 sessions – sometimes more with brick sessions in the lead up to racing.  I committed 100% to Frankfurt.

What possessed me then to enter Weymouth 70.3 on 17th September 2017?

I’m really not sure.

My last 2 Ironman races took place at the end of July and the end of August.  Zurich in July was my first ever Ironman.  There was no way I was ever going to race properly after that in 2014.  Copenhagen was late in the summer and I was ready to race that about a month earlier.  After a months recovery it was the end of September and the season was over anyway.  So this time, I suppose I was looking for something to fill the summer months after Frankfurt.  Walks in the Yorkshire Dales, days out together, rest – I can hear Mrs Smith already suggesting alternative options.  My alternative options obviously included racing.

I did have some time off – honest!  I didn’t ride my bike for at least a week and I didn’t run for about a fortnight.  Clare and I went to Mallorca with our neighbours who are both very active.  I hired a bike and rode a couple of hundred kilometres with Chris.  He dragged me up Sa Callobra – for no apparent reason other than it was there.  A bit like why people do Ironman I suppose.

I went for a couple of swims in the sea with Pauline – Chris doesn’t swim!  We found a lovely bay for the last morning and had a great swim there.

Once back from Mallorca, I had a couple of weeks doing my own thing.  The first week was very easy and I did some bits around the house which had generally been ignored whilst in full-time training mode.   The second week I started back training properly with a good amount of swim/bike/run.

Unfortunately I never really got out on my TT bike again before Weymouth.  You’ll remember from the Frankfurt blog that I broke one of the elbow pads on the bars.  It took me 6 weeks to source the relevant part and have it fitted.  It seems 3T – who are based in Italy – simply shut up shop for 2 weeks and head off on holiday.  Who can blame them?  It wasn’t a real problem considering how much I had ridden it before Frankfurt.  I still managed to head out on the road bike a fair bit.  The main annoyance was that I couldn’t put it on the turbo as I had before Frankfurt, so I had to go to the gym to do some sessions.  I worked quite a lot during August so training twice a day along with 2 hours of travel and work proved quite exhausting.  I’m not sure how I pushed through, but I did.

One of the reasons for doing Weymouth was that I knew quite a few people racing.  I went to Mallorca at the start of the season with Rhea who I raced Frankfurt with.  Some of the team she trains with were racing Weymouth and my twin Stuart was racing as well.  My best friend Kev and Liz were also planning on coming as Kev has family in Weymouth.  So a nice group trip to finish the season off – at least that was the plan.

We hired a house through Air BnB in Portland, just to the south-west of Weymouth.  Kev, Liz, Clare and I set off for Weymouth around 12pm on the Friday to drive down.  SatNav said it should take 5 hours or so.  9 hours later, 3 stops, a crash on the M62 and we were in Weymouth.  Rhea was staying at the house too and she had a much smoother journey from Kent.  Happily for us, she had arrived, been food shopping and cooked dinner for us all when we arrived!  After a good catch up, some food and wine, we headed for bed.

Friday had been a rest day, and Saturday was a short day, just ticking over before the race on Sunday.  I went for a swim in the sea at Weymouth about 500m along the beach from the start point.  Kev joined me (never go open water swimming on your own kids – seriously!).  It was like a pond.  Perfect conditions.  We swam at 7am – the same time as the race started, to try and mimic race day conditions.  This should be fine I thought.  It was a bit cold, but I’d swam in worse.  A hot chocolate on the way back and it was time for a very short brick session.  The other 4 nipped off to the local parkrun for 9am.  Meanwhile I got changed and headed out on the TT bike.  There was a nice long straight road linking Portland to Weymouth so I rode up and down that a few times.  Headwind out and tailwind in the way back.  My hip-flexors felt a little sore, but then I had been sat in a car for 9 hours.  A quick run off the bike and I was all finished.

[Saturdays millpond]

I packed my rucksack with all my bits for the race and put the bike on the car before heading into Weymouth to register with Clare and Rhea.  We dropped Kev and Liz off to see family and then went to find the race briefing.  The race briefings were at 12 and 5pm.  I wanted to get to the 5pm one and planned on meeting Stuart there.  We initially went to transition as I thought the briefing was nearby.  I’d been really busy with work the week leading up to the race and I hadn’t had time to read the race pack fully before we got there.  Frustratingly the briefing was in fact in the theatre on the promenade.  That was a 20 minute walk away.  We hopped back in the car and I was dropped off at the promenade, making it just in time for the briefing.  Stuart was not so lucky and missed the briefing. (He’d raced the year before. I’m not sure what his excuse was :-))

The briefing was dull.  Really dull.  It lasted an hour and the first 14 minutes (I was clock watching it was that bad) was taken up with advertising.  We had people up on stage from a charity talking to us.  I’m all for charity, but not in race briefings.  In Frankfurt, for a full Ironman, the briefing took 35 minutes from start to finish.  Why it should take nearly twice as long at a half is beyond me.  Each segment (swim, bike & run) was preceded with an advert on the big screen.  It frustrates me hugely.  The briefing is all about letting athletes know about the course and more importantly safety.  The longer and more boring they make them, the less people listen, or worse don’t go at all.  That’s dangerous for all and something I mentioned in my event feedback to Ironman.  Moving on…

After the briefing I went outside and saw Stuart and his family.  I also saw my friend Neil who was racing.  I raced Copenhagen with him and we finished only a few minutes apart.  He was supposed to race Frankfurt but didn’t.  He’s a better swimmer than me and it’s usually a good race.  We haven’t raced over a half distance before so I was looking forward to seeing how we’d compare.  I went and registered and then went for some lunch in town.  I then went and racked my bike and bags, ready to race the following day.

[Ernie the Exocet – repaired and ready to go]

I wanted to get back to the house and get off my feet as soon as I could.  We stopped via the supermarket for food on the way back.  I picked up my usual pre-race dinner of gnocchi and chicken.  Nothing too heavy with some carbs, protein and broccoli, my favourite veg.  The others headed out to the pub and I stayed at the house.  This was only after we’d watched an awful programme on BBC 1 called “Len Goodman’s partners in rhyme”.  Kev was not impressed at all.  Think a budget version of Catchphrase and you wouldn’t be far wrong.  My favourite was “A gator on a waiter!”.  I did warn you.  I chilled at the house and put some music on the old record player in the house. I may have to buy one of those.

Rhea made dinner when she got back and I had an early night.  It took me a while to get off and when I eventually did I slept well.  The alarm was set for 4:30am and I woke up at 3:30 needing the loo.  I was quite relieved as I usually wake up just before the alarm on race day.  I was able to go back to bed for 45 mins before the alarm went off.  It’s always hard getting up on race day, but the bed at the house was amazing.  A huge kingsize bed was extremely difficult to extricate myself from.  Nevertheless I did and got my usual pre-race bowl of porridge down me.

We decided that I would head into Weymouth with just Kev first thing.  There was no need for all 5 of us to be up early – the ladies could come later to see me out of the swim and get a bit more sleep. We’d found a convenient car park the day before just behind transition. It wasn’t open on race day, but Kev dropped me off and went to park.

The beauty of Ironman, unlike some other triathlons, is that pretty much everything is done before you get there on race day morning. All that was left was to inflate my tyres, clip on my bike shoes and get my wetsuit on. Oh – and put my timing chip on my ankle which I was given the day before. Except I didn’t have it! I rarely panic and I wasn’t about to start. I spoke to an official, got another one and returned the one I’d left at home later in the day. A quick text to Clare and she bought it with her.

I’d met up with Neil and Stuart by now. We headed to get our wetsuits on before heading down to the beach for the start. I had a chuckle on the way down at the amount of people who had seemingly brought the complimentary slippers from their hotels with them to walk on the pebbles on the beach. We got to the start to be greeted by a long line of competitors already waiting to get in. We were about 30 mins early so I was surprised to see so many waiting already. More importantly, the conditions looked reasonable for September in England. The sun was rising and it looked like it would be a good day to race.

The one (and only one) good thing that had been mentioned at the briefing the day before was that booties could be worn in the swim. Due to the water temperature the rules allowed them. Kev – who never knowingly trains under-dressed, had brought his with him. He kindly leant them to me. I’ve failed to finish two triathlons before, both due to hyperthermia. The main problem has been warming up after the swim. Having travelled so far, I wasn’t about to go home without finishing. The booties would also help running over the pebbles and several hundred metres of tarmac to transition.

Neil and I slowly made our way towards the start together. Similar to Copenhagen we said our goodbyes and started swimming. I thought I’d try and stay on Neil’s feet from as long as I could. After only a few strokes I could no longer see him. It transpired afterwards that he had hurt his hand a few weeks before and not really been swimming. He was hoping it would be okay on the day. Sadly not. He got straight out and went back to London well before I was finished. The end of a difficult season for him.

Meanwhile, the millpond from the day before had been replaced by rolling waves making conditions very hard to swim in. Whilst the sun in the photos looks nice, it served only to blind swimmers and prevent us seeing the turn buoy. I decided to just swim towards the sun and see how I got on. As it turned out, that wasn’t the worst plan. Speaking to a Royal Marine at the end, even he said how bad the conditions were. I took some comfort from that. Not much though as I exited the swim in 41 mins. 7 mins slower than my best time for this distance. It’s impossible to compare courses, especially open water lakes with sea swims. Nevertheless, I was very disappointed.

Transition was long and I spent time putting clothes on as it would take a while to warm up. Out onto the bike and I could hear my fan club cheering! The ladies had made it from the house in time. The bike was relatively unremarkable. Certainly not flat and I did plenty of overtaking on the hills which was pleasing. One athlete was sat behind another drafting. I told him what I thought of him and kept going as I passed. One pleasing aspect was the number of locals I saw out on the course cheering. The Weymouth race was originally held in Henley but moved due to local pressure. Bringing in over £1m to the local economy in September wasn’t enough. When the race first moved to Weymouth the bike course was sabotaged with pins and oil one year. My experience of the local community was only positive and I would certainly recommend the race. As I came back into Weymouth, I reached the top of a hill giving a breathtaking view of the coast. It was long, downhill and quite straight back into the town. I was able to get down on my tri-bars and tick off the last 10km with ease. I got off the bike after 2:51. Not fast but respectable for what was a challenging course.

I came into T2 feeling confident about the run. I had a good transition and headed out onto the run, just as the temperature was beginning to warm up. The perfect place for my last run in anger of the season. I saw the support crew again and immediately shouted to ask where Neil was. They told me he’d pulled out. Damn. No hare to chase. I settled into a good pace and my legs felt okay. The run was 3.5 laps finishing by the pier. The first lap is always a familiarisation lap, finding out where feed stations and bottle necks are. I knew there would be a few problems later on in the race at certain points and sure enough I was right. The issue with multi-lap run courses is that they get too busy toward the end. By this time you have quicker athletes trying to achieve a time and slower athletes who are struggling already after the first lap, if not walking. There was a 200m stretch where it was 2/3 people wide. At the briefing, athletes are told to keep right. They don’t. Despite others asking politely – or barking at them to move. It’s a difficult balance. For some, just finishing the race is huge. For others, they want to qualify for the 70.3 Worlds in South Africa. Both laudable goals. They will achieve them in very different ways. Despite being asked to seed yourselves, slower athletes will panic and go off early to have more time to finish. The issue comes to a head on the run. I asked and then shouted at some athletes to move out of the way. “Calm down mate” is not an acceptable response by the way. I always thank athletes who do move. And if you’re lucky, I might even give you some words of encouragement.

Just under 2 laps in, I caught another athlete at an aid station. 30 seconds later, he appeared next to me. He had a tri-top on from the same club as Rhea trains with. He said how well I was going. He only had one lap left. I had almost 2. He said he was trying to qualify for South Africa. I told him to keep pushing and stay with me. 300m from the end I told him to push and he did. We may have shouted for some athletes to get out of the way! I hope he qualified. I never found out who he was. All part of the fun of triathlon.

It was a good distraction for me but then it was back to the loneliness of the long distance runner. The last lap dragged a little. I’d already decided to push from the turn around and I did. It was about 2 miles from the end and time to empty the tank of what little I had left. I was running on fumes. More mayhem at the pinch points towards the end but I managed to snake through. I crossed the line with a huge sense of relief. For once, I didn’t care about my time. I was just glad it was over. 11 months after it had all begun, I could finally rest. No more 5am swim sessions. No 5 hour bike rides. And no 5 mile runs off the bike.

I ran 1:31. Again. I’d run slightly quicker at the Outlaw Half in Nottingham in May. One day I’ll break 1:30 for a half marathon off the bike. Today was not it.

I got a quick massage and went to see Stuart finish. I tucked into some fish & chips whilst waiting.  Another good reason to race in Weymouth. And caught up with friends and family.

[My niece Lauren and her crew]

Stuart finished well and improved on his time from the previous year. Meanwhile, my big toe on my left foot had started to throb a little. Feet always hurt after such a race, but this was different. Despite the miles I put in, I rarely if ever get blisters etc. on my feet. I’d raced in some new trainers. I’ve worn the same model before and broke these in on the treadmill for several weeks. Despite which, I was left with rather a large blood blister on my toe. If you’re of a nervous disposition, look away now. (pic below) I’ll finish by saying I haven’t lost the nail, but half of it is still bruised 6 months later. It seems to be growing out.

Having collected my bike and chatted to a few people we knew, we headed back to the house. Stuart was staying with us on the Sunday night before travelling back on the Monday. Clare had booked a local pub for dinner, walking distance from the house. It was a good job she had as it was full when we arrived. My left ankle was very sore by now and I was limping quite badly. It was an effort walking up and down from the house, but worth it. Whilst counterintuitive, walking on my ankle is the best thing for it, to keep it mobilised.

[View from the pub 😍]

Back at the house and it was pretty much straight to bed. I slept like a log. Sadly no lie in. Kev had to be back for work. The journey back was no better. 9 hours later we got home. Tired. Sore. But satisfied.

So there you have it. My last race of 2017. I’m not sure I’d do a 70.3 again after an Ironman. It was a real slog.

Thanks to everyone who supported me in 2017, especially Mrs S.

As I said at the top, I hope to blog a bit more in 2018. I have some exciting plans ahead.