Richard’s race report – Ironman 70.3 virtual race – 23rd April 2021
First race of the year and… it was a virtual one. With COVID still knocking around, we weren’t that surprised. I do have an actual (real life) race in a couple of weeks. But back to the virtual race. It was the Ironman 70.3 distance… 1.93km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run… for all you imperials out there, that’s 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. The only difference was, instead of doing it all in one location back to back, I had to do my swim at the leisure centre, bike on my turbo trainer in my garage and run alongside one of my local lakes. Once I had started the swim, I had 12 hours to complete all 3 disciplines. They would only be taking the times for each activity meaning no transitions and I could eat and sleep between activities. Most people looking in (myself included at first) thought the breaks would be great but in reflection it made it mentally so much harder to drag it out across the day and physically my body wanted it to be over after each activity. So I’m all for getting back to doing my swim, bike and run back to back.
With the race only being announced in March, this didn’t give me a great deal of preparation time for this specific race. Luckily I train full time, so I’m in pretty good shape as it is 😉 This was the first time I’ve tested myself over the half Ironman distance for a long time so I was excited to set myself a baseline time for the rest of the season. This race was also an opportunity to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in September. With one of my qualification races being cancelled and the other still a big question mark, this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss!
So race day arrived and I had to swim, bike and run within a 12 hour time period. Luckily with the start time being my choice, this meant I could stay in regular routine. 7am wake up, porridge and smoothie for breakfast, then off to the swimming pool.
We choose a 8:50am swim slot thinking most people would be at work, so the swimming pool would be empty. Little did we know that it was prime time for the OAP club. Slow lane filled with chatty Sallys doing breakstroke and the more serious fast lane filled with much of the same with an added erratic back stroker. Soph stepped up to chat to the lifeguard about a solution… no luck! So I decided to warm up with the hope people may leave soon. Luckily, Soph chatted with the swimmers in our lane and explained I was doing a virtual race. They wished me luck and agreed to allow me to swim on one side of the lane with the reluctant nod from the lifeguard. So 1.93km was all that stood in front of me. However with only 2 weeks of post lockdown swim training in the bank, my swim fitness was hiding somewhere (still to be found). The aim was to swim a sub 30 minute swim. So I set off with confidence and speed. My arms soon start failing me in that pursuit. So I settled into a 9/10 pace… as much as you can settle into working that hard. My game plan was not to look at my watch until close to the end and hope I would check with only 100m remaining. Holding, holding and holding out from looking I check and I’m at 1.4km… 500m left to go. I groan in discomfort but power on. I hit 1.9km and go full throttle (check stats after and speed didn’t increase at all). Final time 30 minutes and 48 seconds. Not what I wanted but content with only 2 weeks of training. Onto the next one!
Back home, I had time for a short rest after refuelling in the car on banana and honey sandwiches and dark chocolate. Then time to set up the turbo trainer ready for the bike leg. Looking outdoors wishing I could hit the real roads with the sun beating down, I stomped out to the garage to put my bike on the trainer, loaded my laptop up, turned the race motivation tunes on and set up my fuelling station. This was more gels and carbohydrate drinks than I usually use to fuel a full weeks training. The virtual course was set to Ironman 70.3 Cairns in Australia (everyone would have to do the same.) The course was pretty flat compared to the average Lake District ride with only 523m of elevation and suited to heavier athletes with big power. Being a fairly light athlete myself, the course wasn’t ideal for me but I would still give it my all. The game plan was to go out at between 240-260w for the first hour and see if I could push on towards the end. For those that don’t know me, I always have (over ambitious) game plans like this. Within 10 minutes my heart rate is already at 168bpm (pretty much my sustainable max) but I’m feeling comfortable. I soon realise that if I can maintain my pace, I will be close to holding an average speed of 40km/ph (25 miles/ph), which would be an all time personal best. I go through 30 minutes… 1 hour… 1 hour 30 minutes feeling comfortably uncomfortable. Then my legs start to feel very heavy, cadence slowing and I know the final stretch would be a slog to the end. Soph had agreed to come out every 10 mins to check on me. Usually just a nod to say I’m ok. 1 hour 45 minutes hit and my legs feel like cramping… no electrolytes around… no Soph is sight. I keep checking the clock… where is she? She better not be watching ‘Married at first sight’. I hear her walking down the steps. I scream “ELECTROLYTES”… “ELECTROLYTES NOWWW”. She gets back to me in time, cramps averted, I apologise for being rude, then back to it. 2 hours hit and still at a 40km/ph average but hills for the final 10km of the course aren’t a happy sight. Legs still feeling heavy but I can still push through on sheer determination. Final time… 2 hour 17 minutes 16 seconds. Average watts 251 and average pace 39.3 km/ph. Big personal best, happy, exhausted… how am I going to run a half marathon?
With a belly full of gels, the last thing I can think of doing is eating. But I know if I’m to run a half marathon, I need to get some fuel in me and get it in quick. I start off with a protein shake and go to get into the recovery systems to help my legs recharge for the run… why are they upstairs? Left knee and right glute cramping. I make it to the recovery systems and fall asleep. Quick 30 minute nap and get up to eat something real. Rice and egg wrap… the meal of champions. I put most things in wraps, try it… you won’t be disappointed. Next back to the recovery systems and massage gun the sores bits. Plan is for a 2 hour rest before heading out for the run.
After much discussion with friends and family throughout the week on the best location to run a half marathon near Keswick, I head over to Thirlmere reservoir to start my run. A lot of debate was going into running on the Threlkeld railway track which is flatter and freshly tarmac but with it being a locals and tourist hot spot, it would have been a weaving and stressful run. So over to the slightly more hilly but quieter Thirlmere. The course would be a 7.5km out and back, followed by another 2.5km out and back. With race rules stating that the course needs to have a net positive elevation at the end of the run, this was the best option. Otherwise I would have chosen a big hill and ran straight down! So on my running, after a period of a few annoying injuries, I’ve only been doing endurance steady runs in training since the start of the March to avoid any further injuries. No race pace efforts, so this run was a huge unknown. Game plan was to start at a 4 minute km pace (6 minute 26 seconds mile pace) and see what happens… with the hope of holding on or (secretly) wanting to push on if possible. So off I go, with Soph in tow with fuel and hydration (let’s hope she remembered the electrolytes). 4 minute pace felt surprising good. I continue on to the first turn around, still feeling good… maybe only doing endurance runs is the key to half Ironman training? I hit 10km and still feeling good until I over stride and jar my knee… oh no, I can’t injure myself now! Change of plan, shorten my stride length, protect my knee and hopefully run it off. I hit 15km and knee is feeling fine but now struggling to take on any fuel but only 6 km left to go. Time to grit my teeth. I’ve slowed slightly… let’s see if I can push on… no, just hold on. Counting down the km’s now… thinking about my chippy tea. Focus! 1km left. Push push. Final time 1 hour 26 minutes and 39 seconds. 4 minute 5 seconds per km pace. Half marathon PB in a half Ironman race. Very happy. Time to rest and eat chips!
Overall time 4 hours 14 minutes and 43 seconds, which is a 30 minute personal best. At the time of finishing I was ranked 1st overall. However (yes unfortunately however), I finished on the Friday with the race running until last thing on the Sunday, so the final results ended up pushing me down to 5th overall. It is no secret that my aim is to get onto the podium, if not take the first step and take 1st. But I know I am heading in the right direction and if I keep training hard, I will get there. Good result, here’s to the next one!
This means that I have qualified for Utah 70.3 World Championships!!!! Now I just need to decide whether I can take the slot and the chances of being able to travel to America in September… Decision pending!