Ironman Weymouth: best kept secret (or about)
Here is my race report for Ironman Weymouth on Sunday, September 11.
But before I go through the race journey, I have to explain a few things…
You may remember that last year I announced my retirement from Ironman racing after Ironman Sweden. However, my retirement didn’t last long, as only a few weeks later I signed up for Ironman Barcelona on October 2, 2017, under huge peer pressure. Some are still making jokes about this possibly being one of the shortest retirements in triathlon history.
However, my come back to Ironman racing had a slight change of plan. Originally, I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Weymouth (the half distance) as a way to get in the right mood for Ironman Barcelona. But the idea of racing Ironman Weymouth (the full distance) instead of the Ironman 70.3 started playing in my head early August, despite having to move houses and spending substantial time in front of the TV watching the Olympics rather than being out training. For a long time, I had not shared this thought with anyone, mainly for the following reasons:
- First of all, I only definitely signed up for the full Ironman race one week before race day
- Secondly, I wasn’t 100% sure that I was actually signed up, as my name would not show up in any lists and I kept getting email alerts for the 70.3 race and none for the full distance race
- And finally, I wanted to avoid the pressure from others on whether it was a wise decision to attempt two Ironman races within 3 weeks and whether I had trained enough. Of course, it wasn’t a wise thing to do. And, of course, I didn’t train enough. But my gut didn’t care… Also, my plan would be to go into both races without too many expectations, just to finish within the cut-off times and to add another Ironman event to the list.
So, only a handful of people actually knew of this little secret: my boss because I had to explain why I won’t show up in the office at 8am on Monday morning, the guy from the bike shop who I asked for a timely bike maintenance service, the massage therapist that had to know what level of pressure to apply on my muscles, and a few more that found out along the way…
I drove to Weymouth on Friday evening, so to have plenty of time on Saturday for registration, check-in and race briefing. Saturday was a grey, rainy and windy day, not ideal for preparation as you had to walk around quite a bit to get everything set. But better to have such weather on Saturday than on Sunday. During the race briefing we got good news: on Sunday, the sea was expected to be calm and the forecast was for a predominantly sunny day, with little wind and not too warm, i.e. ideal weather conditions. And the forecast didn’t disappoint!
Before the actual briefing started, as tradition, Paul Kaye, the “voice” of Ironman Europe, checked how many of the participants were newbies (lots!) or had done one, two, five, ten or twenty Ironman races. A few hands, including mine, were still up at twenty. But then he revealed that among the participants were Luis Alvarez, Jeff Jonas and John Wragg, the only triathletes to have done every full distance Ironman event across the world and more than 200 Ironman distance races each. Suddenly, my 25 didn’t seem a lot...
The swim took place in Weymouth Bay, two laps of 1.9km (1.2mi) with an Australian exit (exit from the water/short run/re-entry for the second lap). The start was combined with the 70.3 and full distance, about 2800 athletes. It was a rolling start to reduce congestion and it worked really well (though I could have done without the initial walking on the pebbles on bear feet towards the start). Only occasionally I got kicked or sandwiched, but for the most part it was an enjoyable swim in calm and warmish waters (what a difference from the last two years!). I was pleased with my swim time, even though I had some difficulties sighting because the sun was very bright. I guess that putting the extra effort in long swims, despite my continued allergy to the swimmer’s itch, paid off (luckily, no swimmer’s itch issues when swimming in the sea).
It was a long run from the swim exit into transition, which explains the longer than usual T1 time. All went smoothly in transition. I took my time to get ready for the bike leg: shoes, bib number, helmet, sun glasses, gloves, chamois cream and sunscreen. No arm warmers or wind jacket this time, as it wasn’t supposed to get cold.
The bike course was two laps of 90km (56mi) taking us from Weymouth’s seafront through the Dorset countryside with beautiful scenery, obviously if you had the time to look around. We were supposed to pass the infamous Cerne Abbas Giant, but I must have missed it. I did see a lot of Dorset asphalt though… It was a very challenging course, much harder than I expected, with a total elevation of more than 2000m, something in between Challenge Weymouth and Wimbleball (for those who are familiar with those races). Usually, biking is my favourite and strongest of the three disciplines, but this time I really struggled. My training for Ironman Barcelona (which is predominantly flat) certainly didn’t do the trick to allow me to master the many hills. Sometimes I wished I had a triple, or at least a 28 in the back. I also experienced some technical problems: the chain fell off four times as I was trying to change gears. Luckily, it was an easy fix each time, but it was annoying as it always happened up hill, and it was challenging to get back on the bike. I believe that this was my slowest time split in an Ironman distance race (with exception of Embrunman which goes through the French Alps), so I was somewhat disappointed, even though surprisingly I was still passing athletes at the end, which kept me motivated as it meant that I wasn’t riding that badly.
I was very glad when I got back into transition, but, ouch, it really hurt getting off the bike. My legs and my lower back were screaming. Again, I took the time in transition as there was no hurry. I was comfortably within the cut-off and had plenty of time for the marathon. I didn’t wear a watch, so I would have to rely on Weymouth’s Jubilee Clock to ensure that I would stay within the allowed time during the marathon.
The run is usually my least favourite of the three disciplines, especially since I find it difficult to do enough training in the summer, particularly the long runs. The run (42km/26mi) was a flat four and a half lap course, mostly along the Esplanade. The run course was packed with spectators, at least until it got dark, but by then I was on my last lap. It wasn’t a fast run, but I was actually pleased that I managed to run most of the time, particularly through the city centre, where lots of spectators where cheering or high fiving. As usual, the best moment is when you reach the finish and you hear the loud cheers of the spectators and Paul Kaye saying “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. For the record, my finish time was 15h 11min 00s, thus well within the cut-off of 16h 30min, and this was #26.
I am glad that I followed my gut. I enjoyed most of the race, despite the pain and the struggles on the bike. Now, I quickly need to recover towards Ironman Barcelona in less than 3 weeks. The good news is that I don’t need to do any long workouts any more: the one I did last Sunday was plenty!
Thanks for reading my report, and expect more news from me in about 3 weeks.