Having done this race 7 years ago, I knew how tough the course was in what is labelled the hardest IM70.3 in Europe. The 56 mile bike course has almost 1500m of elevation and the off-road half-marathon run has a lot of climbing too….
They did a staggered swim start in order to avoid the chaos of 1500 swimmers fighting for the same water. We self-seeded based on swim times in ‘pens’ leading down to the lake which meant that there ended up being a very long queue about 5 people wide that stretched a few hundred metres from the water’s edge. It worked very well as when the starting horn went (after the National Anthem!) we calmly filed into the water and started the race. It only took about 10 minutes for all athletes to enter the water, so it worked well. A thankfully uneventful 1900m swim ended in a surprisingly quick (for me) 36:36 knocking 2 minutes off my previous swim time. I then began the 600m uphill grassy run T1.
T1 was a large tent with all bike and run gear in separate plastic bags hung on hooks on long rows. A quick change into my bike gear and I ran into transition to find my bike.
The bike starts with an immediate 2 mile climb away from the lake. There were lots of athletes on the narrow lanes at this point and one guy in front of me managed to snap his chain and fall off. Bad luck fella. The two lap route is a humbling affair with relentless hills and speedy descents. I moved from praying for more gears as I ground up two of the more infamous climbs, to holding on for dear life at my max speed of 50.6 mph! This was the first time I have seen athletes walking up hills with their bikes during a race, such were the severity of some of the gradients. At the bottom of one particular climb on the first lap, the guy I was overtaking warned me about how steep it was….I saw that he was from the Royal Marines Tri Club and that I should be very afraid if a Marine is afraid of this climb! Many of the roads were either closed both or one way and all side roads and driveways were blocked off. It was excellent organisation than meant we could just focus on the ride. I stuck to my nutrition plan and tried to keep some in reserve as I knew that the run leg would also be tough. I entered T2 after 3:13:21 in the saddle.
A quick T2 and onto the run which was a 3 lap off-road half-marathon on a mixture of grass, trails and concrete with a couple of climbs on each lap. I tried to settle into a rhythm and get my run legs back as my quads were aching after the bike. I carried all my own water/gels etc and so could run past the many aid stations and stick to what I knew. I felt surprisingly good as the run went on and was cheered on by my family. As our names were printed on our race numbers, we were also cheered on by random strangers – always welcome. I continued to feel good and picked off some runners ahead of me and tried to keep the momentum for the final lap. This is the business-end of any triathlon, so the many miles of cross-country I had done in training really paid off. I came into the finishing chute, heard my name being called over the PA and crossed the line in 5:50:07. Almost 8 minutes quicker than 2009 and within the target that I had set myself of being sub-6 hours. Very pleased indeed.
James from the club also raced and having not seen him at all since before the swim, I was keen to find out how he got on. We found each other near the finish and I was delighted to find out that he had smashed his time from last year and also his target he set himself for this year. Excellent work James! Our hilly training rides and runs certainly paid off for us both.
This is a tough but brilliantly organised race, as you would expect from the M-dot family, and is in a beautiful part of the country. Highly recommended. Just make sure you include hills in your training!