Challenge Weymouth – The Race

This post is part two of my recollection of the Challenge Weymouth weekend – for part one please see the previous post (I’m not smart enough to put some fancy link in here which will re-direct you to the first post).

The alarm was set for 6.15, which was quite unnecessary because as normal I woke up at half hour intervals from 2-6. This is a pretty normal occurrence for me the night before a race, and was even more ridiculous in this event, as my part in the relay meant I wouldn’t actually be running until at least 3 in the afternoon. Hey ho.

I decided to skip trying to force down breakfast at a ridiculous hour as there’d be plenty of time for eating while Dave was out on the bike, so me and Katie #1 wandered downstairs and knocked for Paul and Katie #2. On the walk down to the beach, it was noticeably more blowy than it had been in the previous 24 hours. I decided to inspire Paul by cranking out Rocky’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ from my phone, but unfortunately it’s impossible to confirm if this had any positive effect on his performance. I’m pretty sure it did.

I’m absolutely gutted I don’t have a picture of Paul’s face at the moment he first laid eyes on Weymouth Bay. In over ten years of being great friends, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him so scared, and to be fair to him, you couldn’t have paid me to get out in the water that morning. To give you a feel for how rough the water was, the whole event had to be delayed by half an hour to give the organisers time to alter the course, at the same time making the decision that the swim distance would be halved for ‘safety reasons’.

Weymouth would be operating a wave start format, which essentially means instead of everyone starting at exactly the same time, the field would be spread out over 15 minute intervals to avoid the usual scrap that occurs in a ‘mass’ swim start. We watched the first wave charge towards the water, and again, Paul’s face was an absolute picture. He popped off to stick his wetsuit on (and probably say a silent prayer to the swim gods) while the rest of us wagered how far he’d get before the safety guys in the kayaks had to rescue him and drag him to shore.  The altered swim course was a two lap affair involving an Australian Exit. This meant everyone would swim out to a point at sea, swim around a yellow marker buoy, and then swim all the way back. They would then get out, run along the beach back to the point they started the swim, dive back in and do it all over again.

Me and the Katie’s walked Paul over to the start, where I applied some last minute emergency body glide to the back of his neck (there I go again adding value to Paul’s performance, that’s probably another 20 seconds shaved off his swim time). After some final motivational words from myself, (something along the lines of ‘don’t let the team down’) the hooter went a Paul dived head first into the English Channel. We found a decent spot which would allow us to support (or in my case shout abuse at) Paul when he emerged at the end of his first lap. As all the relay teams swimmers would be wearing red hats, it was easy to work out what position he was in at the end of lap one.

One by one the red hats began emerging from the water, and initially there was no sign of Paul on the way. Just as Katie #2 had begun eyeing up potential replacement partners, we locked eyes on him hauling himself out of the water – and to be fair in a very credible 7th place. Obviously wanting to put on a show for the ten’s of spectators lining the beach, he flew along the beach and past our supporting (abusing) point, before swallow diving back into the water for the second lap.

Paul sprinting along the beach
Paul ‘sprinting’ along the beach

We relocated from the beach so we’d be able to offer our support (abuse)  on the run from the water to transition where Dave Brown would take on the baton (in the form of a timing chip that’s strapped around your ankle) for the 112 mile cycle. By this time my Mum and Dave L had turned up (they couldn’t quite make the start, due to the fact that Dave isn’t aware that any time that starts with a 06:xx or earlier exists) to offer their support to the cause. We counted the red hats into transition and sure enough after 6 had gone through Paul appeared, haring down the purple carpet towards transition and a warm shower.

We only had to wait a few minutes before Dave arrived on the bike and cycled off into the distance to start his long day in the saddle. We now had a fair old wait while he was cycling around various parts of Dorset (around 7 hours), so had a decision to make of how best to spend our time. The adults and kids went their separate ways, and Me, Paul and the Katie’s decided we’d hop in the car and try to track our cyclist down and support him out on the course.

After a spot of breakfast (me – muesli, everyone else – fry up. ouch), we sped towards the village of Wool, situated about 40 miles around the opening lap of the two lap bike course. We positioned ourselves at the end of a long straight road so we could see everyone coming from a while away, and got involved in supporting the cyclists as they cruised by. Paul decided to blast out some Britney Spears to spur on the passing cyclists (questionable), and we soon spotted Dave heading our way in the distance. We gave him a massive shout as he went through and he seemed in good spirits, although there was a comment along the lines of ‘it’s pretty hilly’ – I won’t quote on him the way he phrased it..

We then proceeded to follow him in the car for a good 20 miles, annoying him at various points by driving alongside and asking how he was doing. We’d then shoot off down the road and find a spot to jump out of the car to give all of the athletes some support out on the course. On the way back into Weymouth, we put ourselves at the top of a rather nasty hill and watched everyone toil their way to the top – some were really struggling.

IMG_3925
Dave tackling a tough climb

As he began the second lap, we headed back to our accommodation so I could grab some lunch and start prepping for the marathon that I was unsuccessfully trying to forget I had to run in a few hours.

Mum and Dave L popped by to offer some final words of encouragement (something along the lines of ‘try not to hurt yourself too much’) before they joined the Katie’s in wandering down to the town centre, leaving me and Paul to take the short walk to transition. Obviously Paul didn’t miss an opportunity to wind me up for the entire short journey (nothing less than I’d expect, considering I’d given him exactly the same early that morning), and constantly reminded me how long a marathon actually was.

When we arrived at transition it was fairly empty as the majority of the competitors were already out on the run course. This is in no way knocking Dave’s performance – many of the cyclists would pull out during the ride or not make it back to transition within the designated cut-off time. Add that to the fact that Dave (and I hope he won’t mind me saying) is the wrong side of 50, and it was a fantastic effort just to get back to Weymouth after 112 miles of riding in one piece.

Me and Paul mingled with some of the other relay teams awaiting their cyclists in the holding ‘pen’, which was essentially a square marked with 4 metal barriers next to the transitions changing tent. Everyone else was friendly, and one of the chaps about to run sounded like he’d be aiming to run around a fairly similar time to me. I took a mental note of this as it’s always good to have someone to target and chase down during the run. Unfortunately, he set off a good ten minutes before me, so I thought that’d be the last I saw of him (more on that later).

Paul spotted Dave coming around the corner, perfect timing as I was stuck in the portaloo going for what must have been my 5th pee in 20 minutes. I managed to stumble out just as Dave ran over (maybe not the best way to describe the way he was moving after over 100 miles on the bike) to pass me the timing chip. I quickly strapped it to my left ankle, said my goodbyes and ran through the change tent and out on to the run course.

The run course at Weymouth consists of 4 and a half laps in and around the town, mostly along the promenade by the beach. Each lap would start on the pier, before running briefly in-land and completing a circuit of the main shopping streets in the town. You then found yourself back by the beach again, and from there it was a straight out and back all the way to the far side of Weymouth, heading past transition before turning around at the very end of the promenade and heading back to the pier to complete a lap.

As mentioned before I was one of the last out onto the run course, but with fresh legs I had considerably more in the tank than some of the poor souls currently shuffling along the sea-front. I got caught up in the adrenaline of finally being out competing and shot off way too fast, laying down a 7 minute mile – a good minute faster than my target pace. As transition is in a different location to the finish line on the pier, you would run half a lap to the finish, and then start your 4 laps from there.

I immediately found myself running side by side with a rather speedy female athlete, and we were passing everyone at a fairly rapid pace. After a couple of minutes I realised she was actually the leading women in the race and was on her last lap on the way to the finish! I gave her a bit of space and ran just behind her for the rest of the lap, before watching her peel away into the finishing funnel to take the win. Just another 4 laps for me then!

Coming onto the pier I caught sight of the family and friends waiting for me to run through for the first time. The run course was an excellent one for spectating, and I would see people multiple times each laps which was a massive boost. I got a quick high five from Katie while mum screeched something along the lines of ‘go Joe’ (I can never really understand what she’s shouting when she comes to watch these things).

During the town part of the course there was a portion dubbed ‘beer mile’ by the organisers, during which you’d run past numerous pubs and restaurants full of people having a drink or 7 on a Sunday afternoon. This part was excellent as the alcohol had definitely taken it’s toll on most and everyone was getting really involved in encouraging everyone round. There was a group of people outside a particular pub who picked up on the fact I was wearing a Serpentine running vest (the club I run for back in London) and who proceeded to go fairly mental each time I ran through which was pretty awesome – so thanks, whoever you are.

The first lap of a marathon is always good, because everything is fresh and new so there’s no danger of getting bored. I was trying not to get too carried away and made deliberate efforts to try and slow my pace and heart rate, as I was still slightly caught up in the moment and didn’t want to go too hard early only to burn out later on.

I got some bad news near the end of the first lap, when I overheard a conversation between two guys, who were saying that the run course may be short, potentially by ‘up to 2 miles’. I waited until I got to the end of the first lap and did some quick calculations in my head and sure enough, it looked like the route would be around 24 miles! Obviously I was really disappointed, as this dashed any hopes of a PB early on, and I had to revaluate how I wanted to run the race. With the Budapest marathon in 4 weeks time, I tried to get into a positive mindset, telling myself it would be a great ‘training run’ in preparation for this. I also knew I wanted to run the team as far up the rankings as I could, so decided I’d push as hard as I was able to.

I came into town for a second time having settled into a good pace, and promptly picked up the wrong wristband upon commencement of my second lap! Each lap you’d pick up a different coloured wristband to denote how many laps you’d done, so the officials at the finish would know you were able to finish the run when you had collected all 4. One of the volunteers shouted I’d taken the wrong band so I stopped momentarily to see if I’d need to go back, but they waved me on and told me to grab it next time around. Panic over.

Into the town section again, and I’d had a niggling feeling during the first lap that I recognised one of the marshals on the high street. In the triathlon world there’s a podcast called ‘IM talk’, and every few years they host this event called Epic camp. Basically, you can only get on to this camp if you’re a really strong triathlete and have to hit certain times in an Iron distance race to prove to the organisers you can hack the pace. This year the camp was held in the Rocky mountains in Canada, and these chaps would do 12 days of crazy training, usually consisting of at least a 3km swim a day, a minimum 100k bike ride and a run of between 1 and 2 hours. Every. Single. Day.

Anyway, the camp has a scoring system, and the guy with the most points (usually the person who does the most ridiculous amount of training imaginable) picks up the ‘yellow jersey’. A few Brits were on the camp this year and IM talk had pointed us towards their blogs, which I’d read most days when I got a spare minute. Obviously they’d post a load of pictures in the blogs, and I had a funny feeling I’d seen this marshal somewhere before…

‘Sorry mate, but is your name Adam’. Cue confusion from the guy who obviously had absolutely no idea who I was. He hesitantly answered yes, by which I responded with ‘Adam Bardsley?’ Now worried he might have a first class stalker on his hands he took slightly longer to answer this time, before again replying with an affirmative. ‘Congrats on your yellow jersey during Epic camp, strong work all round’. As you can imagine, this whole conversation took place pretty quickly as I was in the middle of running a marathon, but he shouted after me down the road that he was looking forward to telling his mates he’d been recognised by someone. It took my mind off running for a few minutes anyway.

I saw Mum, Dave L and the Katie’s in town again, and I got another high-five from Katie and a few wise words from Mum; ‘JOE, YOU’RE GOING TOO FAST, SLOW DOWN’. Last time I checked Mum wasn’t exactly knowledgable in all things running, so I decided to respond in the nicest possible way with ‘Shut up, you mug’ (It was said with love, I promise).

Feeling good early on in the run
Feeling good early on in the run

Coming on to the third lap I was still feeling pretty strong, but everything was getting a bit less exciting because you’d been here before and I knew I’d still have to do everything one more time before the finish. The way the course was laid out was also pretty cruel, as you’d actually run around the actual finishing area, without actually being able to finish until you’d collected the requisite number of wristbands. This was tough mentally, as it was the feeling of being so close yet oh so far!

Running around the finish area - another 2 laps yet though!
Running around the finish area – another 2 laps yet though!

I tried to keep my mind occupied during the third lap to try and forget I was starting to hurt now. It was great to see Dave had now turned up after freshening up (and not looking too bad at all, I should add!) I asked him how he was feeling and if he could walk properly or just waddle. I also ran past my new best mate Adam, and tried to get across the fact that I was not in fact some weird internet stalker, which was pretty hard to do while attempting to run a marathon. Thankfully, when I saw him on the last lap he’d unzipped his top to reveal his Epic camp bike jersey, and gave me a few words of encouragement, so I’m hoping he doesn’t think I’m a complete weirdo.

Towards the end of the third lap I was really starting to hurt, but I knew I just had to dig in as once I was onto the last lap it’d start to feel better (and I’d only have 10km to go!) Running out to the far end of the course was becoming a real test, as it was a long slog where the crowds were fairly sparse, and you were being buffeted by a fairly strong breeze coming in off the sea. After what seemed like an age I reached the turn point, took on a quick bit of water and headed back to town for the penultimate time.

Starting the last lap was a decent feeling, although I knew I still had around 6 miles to hang tough and try and grind out a similar pace until the end. However, you’re buoyed by the fact that as you pass landmarks on the route, you know it’s the last time you’ll go by them and this gives you an extra little lift. I made sure to try and return the applause on the last lap to everyone that was offering me encouragement. The support out on the course was fantastic and I felt it only right to thank people for being out there for the majority of the day. I saw the support crew for the last time before the finish, and gave them a rather meek thumbs up (I think Mum and Katie were starting to get concerned by this point – they always know I tend to push pretty hard and leave everything out there on the day. Dave L on the other hand is the opposite – or if he is worried he’s very good at hiding it. I just assume he’s trying to work out where he can pick up his next Tunnocks Caramel Wafer.)

Me and Paul had spoken earlier and had thought it’d be a good idea for him to keep me company for half a mile near the end, and it really helped as by this point I was in a dark place. I remember muttering to him something along the lines of ‘I know I’m in a race now’, which I’m not sure really makes that much sense. We just chatted about how his Dad was doing among other things, anything just to keep my mind from the pain I was now in. He then peeled off and I headed out to the far turn for the final time, knowing it would all be over in the near future.

I’d been so engrossed in doing my own thing that I hadn’t noticed I’d been slowly gaining on the guy I’d been chatting to in transition (a member of another relay team, see above). However, as we neared the turn I recognised the back of his tri-suit and knew he must also be on his last lap, so we’d be racing for final positions. Now, I’d read about situations like these before, where you’re slowly catching someone in a marathon. Apparently the trick is to pick your moment, and then just pick up the pace and floor it past them. If you let them think there’s even a chance that they could hang on to your pace, then they may raise their game and stick with you. So I did just that. I slowly made my way up to his shoulder, and then pushed hard past him, making a point not to look back and tried to look like I was running strong. I got to the turn, and this gave me a chance to see how much of a gap I’d got over him, and it seemed to have worked as I had a good 50 metres. However, I was now the one being chased and I made a concerted effort to push hard for the next mile to make sure he wouldn’t come back to me.

Coming into town for the final time was a great feeling. I felt like I was flying and was passing a steady stream of guys also on their last lap (albeit they’d done a whole Ironman!) Again, I made an effort to thank anyone who’d given me any support, along with the volunteers at the aid station who’d been absolutely brilliant all day. I rounded the top of the pier for the last time, and I could see Paul and Dave ahead in the distance, waiting to run the final 50 metres or so over the red carpet with me. We ran into the ‘stadium’ area together and I got an arm round both of them as we crossed the line simultaneously, before I went to find a metal barrier that I could collapse into. I’d really struggled to take on any nutrition during the run on account of an upset stomach, so I ended up having just two energy gels for the full 24 miles along with a few cups of water, so it was safe to say I was running on empty and feeling a bit wobbly.

My run split turned out to be a really good one – 3.05 for the 24ish miles, which was the 3rd fastest run split out of all the relay teams, so I was pretty chuffed with that. I’d also picked up a fair few places in the team event, and we’d ended up 9th out of 22 – I’d say that was a fairly decent effort. If I continued on at the pace I’d been running at (which I think would have definitely been manageable), I would have clocked around a 3.23 marathon, which would have been a fairly chunky PB – annoying. However, it’s not worked out all that bad as I’ve got Budapest in 4 weeks time so I can try to address the issue straight away. I’m just hoping this won’t have taken too much out of my legs and it’ll come round too soon – 4 weeks isn’t a long period to recover in the world of marathon running.

The 3 of dropped into the finishers area where we collected our t-shirts. I needed to have a sit down as I was feeling pretty rough and light-headed. After taking on some water we met up with the families and had the obligatory finishers photos, where I had to attempt to turn grimaces into a happy smile, which sort of made me look like a mental patient.

My best attempt at a smile
My best attempt at a smile

Unfortunately, everyone had to rush off shortly after the finish due to it being fairly late on Sunday afternoon and people working the following morning, so we all said our goodbyes, leaving Katie with the unenviable task of having to look after a 24 year old man who couldn’t quite master the art of walking for the next few hours.

I popped down to the high street to catch up with Adam Bardsley and make more reassurances that I wasn’t in fact a creepy guy from the internet but just thought he was pretty awesome at triathlon. We had a good chat and I let him know that I’d get to Kona (Hawaii, where they host the Ironman World Championships) one day even if it killed me, and I’d also love to do Epic camp as well. He wished me all the best and told me I had to want it ‘really bad’ – all in all, he seemed like a great guy.

We went back to freshen up (or in my case, sit in the shower for 45 minutes and attempt to start feeling like a normal human being again), before grabbing some well earned fish and chips from the seafront and watching some of the final finishers make their way around the course. You’ve got to have a massive amount of respect for these guys, as they started at 7am and had therefore been on their feet for nearly 17 hours – that’s a tough day in the office whatever way you look at it!

Me and Katie woke up pretty early the next day and I decided it’d be a great idea to go for a ‘recovery’ run down by the beach. Within 2 minutes my calves were completely seizing up, so I let Katie crack on while I had a good stretch. We headed back to London at lunchtime, making the most of a rare day off work (not if you’re Katie who is now a full-time student again, so every day is a day off) and I was back in Clapham by mid-afternoon.

As I mentioned earlier, Budapest is next up in around 4 weeks time. I decided to run 2 marathons in a fairly short time-frame to see how my body would cope with the demands, so it’ll be interesting to see how quickly I recover. I’m hoping after the disappointment of a short course, I’ll be able to replicate my form in Hungary and run a decent PB. However, anyone that has run marathons before knows that anything can happen on the day so I’ll just have to hope the running gods are on my side..

 

6 thoughts on “Challenge Weymouth – The Race

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