Wow! What a day! I was expecting today to be tough but I didn’t imagine the way it all turned out. As if the course, the 3.30am rise and the distance weren’t hard enough, the Scottish summer weather added a twist to the proceedings.
Yesterday was full of its own challenges between getting to registration, setting up at both transitions (they were in different places) and remembering what needed to be where and then finished off the day being bitten by the Prestonpans shark! You can watch my vlog from yesterday here.
One way to describe this was like swimming in a washing machine! In the days leading up to the event, I learned that the sea was a bit choppy and started to think that it could work in my favour as I had only done a couple of open water swims, not enough to get used to and I might be better adapting to the conditions than others and so it turned out. Rough conditions in any activity becomes a great leveler and the ability to adapt to the conditions can easily make up for the difference in speed etc. The waves were a fair challenge right from the start and I found myself switching to breaststroke as I couldn’t get into any rhythm in the crawl. It was nuts, you’d find yourself at the top of a wave and the person next to you was about 2 foot below! Doing breaststroke allowed me to go past a few people around me and catch swimmers ahead of me who were trying to persist with the crawl. I was very happy with the swim and it probably went much better than I had anticipated.
As soon as we got out of the water, there were plenty of people on hand to assist with pulling the zip down on the back of the wetsuit, which was a nice touch. The set up was great and easy to follow. Run in, wetsuit off, cycle gear on, wetsuit in bag, drop bag in the drop zone on the way to get the bike. I hear my friend Joe’s name being called out and saw him pass me as he shot out while I had a bit of bike maintenance to do.
My ride got off to a bad start as my chain came off as I was running out of transition. There were plenty of people to help by holding the bike while I got the chain back on. There was also a van going around the course to assist the athletes with any bike problems and this was nice to see.
I didn’t study the bike route that much but I knew the section between mile 23 and mile 30 was to be the most challenging. There were steep inclines and also steep descents but the biggest challenge was that the majority of the ride was cycling into either a headwind or crosswind!
The ride was frustrating for me and I know I could’ve done better. In last week’s ride, my front wheel started wobbling on a steep descent, turns out it wasn’t as tight as I thought and had come loose during the ride. This spooked me when we came to the steepest descents, even though I knew the wheel was secure, and I became over-cautious. This lost me time but then I made up for it by passing lots of people on many uphill sections by simply focusing on pulling my knees up. This made it so much easier and I got the impression that I was the only person doing this so this was good!
They made a point of saying littering with energy gel wrappers would result in disqualification and this worked well as the roads were clear and plenty of bins at the feed stations to discard them.
It seemed for ages that Arthur’s Seat was a good distance away and then suddenly we were right there. I had seen people commenting on the anti-clockwise loop around it to get to T2 and had thought it was a wind up but it turned out to be true. Even when we were heading into Holyrood Park and passed those on the run section on the other side of the road, I still hadn’t figured out how we would get to T2 until we turned the corner and started the climb. Going round anti-clockwise certainly wasn’t as bad as it would’ve been if we had to go the other way as that would’ve been a longer climb as opposed to the short, steep one we were faced with. Once we got to the top, a couple of mouthfuls of drink then it was downhill to transition. The wobble from the downhills had gone and so I was able to use the speed here. Not my best ride but a useful learning.
I was glad to get the bike racked then it was a simple case of getting into the tent, change my shoes, take my helmet off then go. I sat down to change shoes to avoid cramp and downed the bottle of Cherry Active I had put in my bag as I knew that would help avoid cramping. With that, bag was hung up again then out for the run.
I got a boost when I came out of the transition tent to see Allison standing by the runway. Towards the end of the cycle, I started thinking about where I might see her as we never arranged a specific place where she should be so it was nice to see her at that point and it helped me start the run just right. The Cherry Active was a masterstroke as I felt a bit tight towards the end of the cycle and this allowed me to run as I normally would. I came out of transition with a tempo in my head, stuck to it and used the people in front of me to pull me along. I’ve done a few races in Holyrood Park before so knew what to expect and this course would present a great challenge as a stand alone event never mind at the end of an Ironman 70.3. It was very undulating with a few sharp turns and a couple of steep inclines/descents that would sap the energy from the legs.
I settled into my usual race tactics of feeling comfortable with the pace knowing that I could speed up towards the end. Towards the end of the cycle leg, I could spot a few people walking and running slowly and wondered if I could catch them. I didn’t want to do anything crazy and decided to stick to what I was doing and see what happened. I’m not normally a fan of multiple laps in a race but I rather enjoyed this as you could see who was where and try to guess which lap they were on and whether I could pass them. Having that distraction made the miles fly in and certainly made it feel easier than many Half Marathons I’ve done!
There were 4 points on the course where we had to run round the marker and double back on ourselves. In the past I’ve practiced a couple of drills to help with sharp turns in races and I was able to switch between them when I got to the markers so I didn’t need to slow down as everyone else had. There were 3 feed stations on this course with water, electrolytes, cola and more water. I had stopped at each one to take water on board and also took some cola as that felt like it was a change to the gels. I would take a mouthful of water, pour the rest down my neck, move on to the cola, drink that, then go to the last table for another cup of water, rinse my mouth then pour the rest down my neck then carried on running.
The support was amazing all the way round, especially towards the finish and end of each lap. There was always a boost at the end of each lap, especially at the end of lap 2 knowing that I was on my final lap. I was getting excited as it was nearly over but had to switch off and focus as I still had another 4 miles or so to go although it didn’t seem that far when you know all the parts of the course! By this point I had become aware that the only people who had passed me were those on their final lap heading to the finish and so I needed to focus on the mile I was in to preserve that status. There was one point on the course when we came out of the tunnel (which seemed to get longer on every lap), followed by a steep winding uphill climb that became more challenging to run, not because it was steep but because the people in front were walking and it needed a bit of weaving to get through. I saw a few people from Perth Tri Club on the course and was good to be able to give each other support as we went round. It was also great to see Ella on the course and I seemed to see her at almost exactly the same point on each lap as she was passing one of the feed stations. I always think seeing people you know gives you a boost regardless of whether they’re ahead or behind you.
I rarely checked my watch but at the point I did look at it, I could see I was past the 12 mile mark and just had a mile to go. I didn’t get overly carried away as I still had a couple of steepish inclines to go but I enjoyed the downhill stretch I was on then turned to go uphill to the second last feed station. I decided that this would be the last time I would take on some cola, turned at the top and was greeted by a friend, Emma, I know from UKRunChat on Twitter, got a hug then carried on my way to the finish. I had one more feed station to pass, just poured the water down the back of my neck and kept running. I only had a couple of hundred yards to go, saw the signs directing us to the finish, turned onto the big red mat, dug out my sprint finish and crossed the line. What a buzz!
When you cross the finish line of a marathon, you normally get a wave of every emotion coming across you in the space of a minute and this was no different. I got my medal, got my photo taken, chip removed then went into the marquee to get my bag with clothing to change into, my finishers t-shirt then made a bee line to the table with food! There were pies, slices of cake, watermelon and various drinks and so I took some of them all! Watermelon is always the best thing after a race as it rehydrates you, perfect for when you’re mostly dehydrated and consumed small amounts of water and energy gels for the last few hours!
Would I do it again? Yes I would but I’ll leave it a bit before I sign up for another one. Ironman events are pretty expensive but they do put more into them that you don’t get in other races apart from the big city marathons. Certainly, there are things they could improve on themselves for next year but for any race organiser, you have to go through the event to learn from it and know how to do better next time just the same as the athletes.