Andy Bryant at IMUK
Back in May this year I had a great experience at Ironman Lanzarote. There were a few things I wanted to improve on though, so I decided to enter Ironman UK. This gave me just two months to prepare, aiming for a better swim, faster transitions, and to ride fractionally easier so I could really race the marathon. And to enjoy the day of course!
My basic plan following Lanza was to ease back into training for 3 weeks, jump back to peak intensity for another 3, then taper for the remaining 2 weeks. This went well, although at times I doubted the wisdom of 2 iron-distance races so close together. The swim distances were stepped-up, mostly open-water, usually followed by eating too much at the nearby Chinese buffet. Despite gaining a couple of percent body fat I redeemed myself with a 2:31 PB at olympic distance, the 'Dambuster' national age-group champs, putting me within 8% of the age-group winner's time. With that and a few more monster brick-sessions I felt ready for Ironman UK.
The week before IMUK saw dramatic thunderstorms and a very unstable forecast for race-day itself. Accordingly I packed every sensible kit option into the car (including Sealskinz socks and Marigold gloves!) and off we set for Lancashire. Rain lashed down as we trailed between registration, the split transitions and our b&b, however I opted for mostly dry-weather kit - the met office was promising the weather would magically clear overnight and thankfully they were mostly right.
After half a night's sleep the alarm beeped insistently at 3am and I got up for breakfast; cold sweet potato, boiled eggs and natural yoghurt, yum. Following a drive (dodging drunk people outside the local nightclub!), a bus ride and a walk, I assembled with 2000-odd others at the Lake. This time I went for the outside line at the mass start, to avoid the biff but incurring a slightly further swim on the first lap. Whilst busy it was otherwise uneventful. Following an Aussie-style exit-run-entry the second lap began and I found successive pairs of feet to draft from. This felt easy, and perhaps I went too easy as I was a couple of mins slower on the second lap. The result was 1:17, just about top third of the age-group and overall field (just 3mins faster than Lanza, but somewhat less taxing this time around).
Transition one was more fluent than usual, thanks to Clare's tuition and practice from the earlier races. Onto the bike I set about gaining places from the proper swimmers. Having recce'd the course a month earlier I knew it was hilly but thought it'd be easier than Lanza. In fact the hills were steeper, shorter, but more numerous - the course is lumpy and a bit gnarly, relentlessly up and down, with sharp turns everywhere and lousy road surface, making it difficult to find a rhythm. Support around the course was immense though, including Tour de France style narrow corridors of whooping spectators on the climbs After 112 miles and 6hrs05 I was up from 45th to 19th in age-group, just about on target time-wise. This was 10mins faster than at Lanza but I'd definitely worked harder for it. A slight question hovered over whether I still had the legs for a decent run.
Following another smooth transition the legs felt good again as I banished all doubts based on the preceding tough bike course. Once again the spectators were magnificent; the Lancastrian folk support this race really well, the feel-good factor really helping to keep the pace up. The run course followed a scenic 8 miles into Bolton, then three 6-mile out-and-backs in the town centre. The crowd lined the full length of the town centre section, noisily alleviating the monotony! The sun came out for most of the run, but the heat felt just fine to me having trained for hotter conditions at Lanza. Beforehand I'd decided to walk the aid stations to take on fluid/nutrition more effectively, and likewise the short sharp hills on the course. This seemed to work well, with pace staying reasonable as the afternoon wore on. Finally the finish approached, and with it many hands extended from both sides of the crowd; it seemed only polite to zig-zag that final section, high-fiving as many as I could! The run split was a sluggish 4:07, 12 mins slower than at Lanza, but gained me another 6 places in age group.
The fInal time was 11:41, 13th M50-54 and 235th out of 1603 finishers overall. Whilst that's just 4 mins faster than at Lanzarote, the course is tougher here I think. Overall I'm chuffed with the result, having climbed 11 places in age-group compared to Lanza (although there's a little less competition from fast foreigners at IM UK).
Having recovered for a few days now I can say that this old body coped with two ironmans in two months, but that's enough for this year. The next big race will be half-iron distance in 3 months time - Challenge Paguera Mallorca, my first race (hopefully there may be more!) as an age-group athlete with team GB.