Written by Paul Ransome
Anyone who knows me will tell you I took this race very seriously and that included booking the hotel right in transition no matter what the cost!
I arrived in Weymouth on the Friday before the race to register, with a stiff neck and back from a stressed body and mind in the week leading up to the big day. I treated myself to a massage at registration, which worked wonders and loosened me up before attending the race brief. At the briefing Ironman compere Paul Kaye was cracking, delivering his entertaining humour and was keen to let us know we were in the room with Ironman royalty. I was amazed to hear that royalty was John Wragg who has completed 210 Ironman races and this was going to be number 211 wow! I’m ‘only’ there doing my third! After a chicken burger courtesy of Ironman it was back to prep my transition bags. Getting to your ‘A’ race as early as possible is key to help keep you relaxed.
I woke up on Saturday to a stiff neck again and typical British wind and rain, regularly referring to the weather app to make sure Sunday still looked good. I tried to hold off on the pre race workout until the weather improved but that wasn’t happening so I decided to brave the weather and get it out of the way, just making sure I used safe roads and no silly descents. Time was flying by and I soon had to rack my bike and drop my bags in the transition tents, cue intense faffing and stressing over whether everything I needed was in the bag and how tight the bolts were on my bike, still for some reason I was feeling good and all went well leaving plenty of time to chill before dinner as I waited for my wife to arrive. Dinner was a safe chicken and rice with a non alcoholic beer which I’ve got quite a taste for and it was great to be joined by my Urban Endurance team mates and some friends; the banter helped clam us all down before bed.
Now this is exactly why you book a hotel in transition. I woke up at 4:45 (it would be much earlier if you’re camping 5 miles away!) and enjoyed my bagels with jam, pot of porridge and strong cup of coffee. I walked down to transition, pumped up my wheels and attached all of my nutrition to the bike before going back to my room. I walked straight past the mile long queue for the porta-loos and enjoyed a nice relaxing hour to get ready for the race, priceless.
I left the room to be greeted by the beautiful sight of the sun rising over Weymouth bay, there was a great vibe and I felt relaxed and ready to go, my neck was loosening up by the second. After singing the National anthem, the Pro race started to the sound of the hooter and AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’; the atmosphere was electric. 5 minutes later the hooter goes again and we’re off as one massive wave of swimmers from both the full Ironman and the 70.3 race. There were 2600 wetsuit clad bodies shuffling before finally breaking into a run down the shingled beach into the sea. I was in the front pen aiming to break the hour for the 2.4 mile swim and had enlisted the help of my team mate Joey who was doing the 70.3. I was going off hard in the swim, all I had to do was stay on his feet, 300 metres in I was surprised to find I was side by side with Joey and swimming away I couldn’t drop back now as I was feeling so good. I completed the first lap of the swim in Just under 30 minutes the goal was on. I re–entered the water with a group of 10+ other full distance triathletes and battled for the best set of feet. Soon, we started the make our way through the masses that had started later in the rolling start and tried to pick the straightest line to shore. I hit the beach and looked at my watch, 1:00:35 not quite, but good enough, my faith in my HUUB Archimedes had paid off.
Into T2 I was faffing a little about whether to stop in the porta-loos but decided to press on. I felt like I was moving a little slowly but I didn’t panic. My bike mount was poor, (need more practice) and I left a roll of tape in my shoe! After spending the first mile getting into my shoes it was time to get my head down and make sure I capitalised on my strongest discipline.
All was going well and I feeling good, putting out more power than expected, then one of the favorites for the race came flying past me at 10 miles. All I thought was ‘wow, I’ve got some work to do’. 30 minutes into the bike it was time to implement the nutrition plan, this involved taking on High 5 energy bars and High 5 gels alternating every 30 minutes, which worked perfectly. The first lap of the bike was mainly spent negotiating the extremely busy course which was populated with 1000+ 70.3 racers, my feeding and hydrating was going to plan, picking up bottles exactly where I needed them. At the end of lap one the 70.3 racers were pulling off back to transition and I carried on to lap 2 and onto a deserted road; it stayed like that for 10 miles. I made the first ‘out and back’ and coming back the other way I saw the race leader. I started to count how many guys there were behind him and worked out that I was in eighth place. I started to pick of the other riders and felt sorry for the guy in fifth place as when I went past him he was at a stand still with a broken spoke. There was a long gradual climb where I could see at least 3 miles up the road and I could see my next targets, I had passed two more by the time I had reached the top and I had nearly caught the third. This next guy did not want to be caught and proceeded to pull away from me and raced down the hill at over 50mph. Unfortunately for him, there was a hill on the other side; I caught him and that put me in second place. I only had one more to catch.
I didn’t reach first place but overall it was a pretty uneventful bike, which is the way you like it when you always have the ‘P’ word at the back of your mind. I made it out of transition in second place, stuffed my high caffeine gels and salt tabs in my back pockets then after a quick break I hit the run. I checked my back pocket at about 500m into the run. Catastrophe, my gels are gone! What am I going to do? ‘Calm down’ I thought, you’re just going to have to risk using their caffeinated gels. Luckily for me they were apple, so a flavor I was used to. One thing to remember for the future; test the products before the race just incase. I was trotting along at my goal pace of 7:30 per mile and the heat was rising so I poured a cup of water over my head at the next aid station. To add to the run challenges, my HR monitor stopped working so I was in a dilemma about how to monitor my exertion. After some thought, I said ‘just go with how you feel, it’s all good right now’. Up until now, this has pretty much been against my sporting values; how things change! I ran past my family at 5 miles to be told there weren’t many in front of me. I did get caught by the eventual runner up at about 8 miles and caught sight of Rob Arkell coming the other way at a serious pace. This was important for me to see as he was my yard stick, having beaten me twice this year at 70.3 races by passing me on the final lap of the run. I eventually found my self in 4th place but I was still managing to hold pace and my supporters were feeding me information about how much of a cushion I had over Rob. I was expecting my usual battle with fatigue to ensue at 16 miles but all was still going well, my mile splits were still 7:30 and I was still managing to take my gels. The battle didn’t come and the last 10 miles flew by as I spent most of the time calculating how far ahead I was of Rob as at one point my Dad told me I was only 1:30 ahead (luckily this was flawed). I went past the finish to start my last lap and I had a stabbing pain in my middle toe. I thought ‘not now‘! After 20 painful strides I managed to keep it going and I wasn’t going to give up the goal now. At the last turn I worked out I had at least 4 minutes gap and with 2 miles to go I picked up the pace. I was nearly there, my goal nearly achieved and my last 2 miles had been the fastest of the marathon. I was at sub 7 minutes per mile by the end.
I crossed the line and hit the deck not due to physical exhaustion but pure elation that I had finished in a personal best time of 9:38:55, with a marathon PB of 3:20 and a Kona slot was on the cards!
I quickly looked for the officials to find out where I was in the age group completely by passing my family. After some rushing around checking the other guys’ numbers I was third in my age group and would just have to wait till morning to have my slot confirmed. I went to my family and friends who were full of praise and then the emotions came. I’d done it, we were on our way to Hawaii.
Paul is sharing his story with Tri Radar as he prepares for Kona 2017. You read his introductory blog here.