Exclusive Interview with Phil Graves, two-time winner of Ironman 70.3 UK, on how best to tackle Wimbleball’s demanding course.
You smashed the race last year, throwing in an incredible bike split on one of the toughest 70.3 courses in the world. What’s the secret to doing so well at Wimbleball? What are your 3 top tips for first-timers to this event?
I don’t really have any secrets to doing well at Wimbleball – I just feel the course really suits my strengths. I love running off road and the place holds a lot of special memories for me so on an emotional level I always perform really well there.
If I had to give 3 top tips to doing well at Wimbleball, I would say:
- Come prepared for unexpected weather and don’t be afraid to put on lots of clothes on the bike to stay warm. It can do anything down there on Exmoor so make sure you pack plenty of clothes for every eventuality.
- Race to your strengths. This isn’t a normal 70.3 course like 70.3 Texas or Miami, which are both pan flat. Wimbleball is very hilly and it’s going to hurt. If you’re not a great climber on your bike, don’t go full blast on the first 2 hills and then struggle over the next 54 – take your time. If you’re more of a power rider then use the flats and downhill’s to your advantage, so take the hills steady and make up time on your competitors when they are taking it easy from one hill to the next!
- Have a bike that works and a suitable gear combination. If you’re in the front ¼ of the pack, I would use a 39 inner chain-ring and a 27 on the rear. If not, go for a compact with a 27/29 on the rear to avoid totally smashing your legs and then not being able to run. Also, get to know your bike well – you’re going to be changing gear a lot so make sure you’re efficient at that and also make sure there is no way your chain is going to snap. Year after year I see people with snapped chains at the side of the road – don’t be that guy at this year’s race!
- What nutrition advice can you give those taking part in Ironman 70.3 UK this year?
Just be sensible in what you do and don’t try anything you haven’t done in training. I would recommend taking a gel on the bike and run at least every 30mins. If you’re not used to gels, try jam sandwiches, energy bars or cakes. Eat whatever it is that gets you through those long Sunday club rides when you stop at a café – even if it is a jam scone laden with cream!
- How do you prepare mentally for a 70.3 event? What advice can you give enthusiastic first-timers?
Firstly, know the course – know where you’re going and where the hills are, in order to avoid any nasty surprises on race day. If you do this then it makes it easier to mentally prepare for the race. Also, take advantage of the many camps based in and around the 70.3 UK course and get used to the setting – this is not a race you can simply turn up at, pedal your bike around and collect your finishers medal.
Secondly, take things steady up that first hill – it’s a monster and can ruin your race if you go up there full gas. There is still 84km to ride when you reach the top – if you lose 2 minutes here, don’t panic, you have plenty of time to make it up over the next 2 bike laps.
- What makes Ironman UK 70.3 so special?
The fact that the race is in the middle of nowhere makes it extremely special. There aren’t many events in the world like that – I can only think of the Wildflower Triathlon in California and the Savageman Triathlon in Maryland. All 3 events are set in beautiful isolated areas of countryside and all offer super hard courses that will test any athlete. The sheer togetherness and atmosphere between all the competitors is pretty special too and not to be missed; everyone has made that special effort to travel to Exmoor, miles from anywhere, and it just feels that there is the race there and nothing else to compete with that, making it 70.3 heaven.
- Wimbleball is renowned for throwing unpredictable weather conditions at competitors. What do you do to prepare for uncertain weather?
I sit in the garden in just my trunks in winter to get used to the cold!
I don’t really but the unpredictable weather is another challenge to the whole UK 70.3 racing experience. When it rains, the whole expo area becomes a mud bath and cars get stuck in the car park – but it all adds to the character and uniqueness of the event. You can’t really do anything to prepare for bad weather, you just have to control the controllables and manage the uncontrollables, the weather being one. Best trick is just to keep warm when the weather gets bad and keep out the rain.
And finally . . . . .
- What piece of tri kit can you not live with out?
As most people can probably guess, I would be lost without my bike but to be a little bit quirky, I would probably say, and its not totally Tri related but close enough, the Cycling Time Trials Handbook, which lists all the Time Trial races in the UK every year.
TT’ing is my hobby and the Handbook not only helps me pick out my ‘hobby’ races for the year, it also makes for amazing motivational reading since it has all the records at every distance from every year. Its truly a compendium for any cycling geek like myself!
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