Ironman UK 2018 – Bike & Run

This is part two of my Ironman UK adventure. Part one can be found here

Bike

I spent the opening few miles concentrating on getting some food and drink on board and settling into a good rhythm. The plan was- don’t go out like an absolute lunatic and blow up after 60 miles.

start bike

I’m always playing catch up after the swim, and found myself passing a steady stream of riders in the first 15 miles, with the terrain steadily rising before we hit the first proper hills. As mentioned previously, the bike course had been cut to 95 miles due to fires in the area. This didn’t have any effect on my race whatsoever; everyone else had to ride the same distance.

Once we hit the hills we had 2 laps of 36 miles to ride before heading back into town. Just before the first ascent of the toughest climb on the course, I caught fellow chaser Martin Rutter, and we rode this together, slogging our way to the top.

The way back down was a particularly nasty descent, with a mixture of tight turns and horrible road surfaces. The main thought running through my head was ‘Don’t crash in the first hour of the bike, no risk is worth it’. I passed the point where I’d nearly been cleaned out by a tractor 3 days previously, managing a wry smile.

The route is constantly up and down, with hardly any straight sections, so there was little opportunity to get down into the time trial position for significant periods. I was just concentrating on picking off one rider at a time, and things were going well; I was only passed by two riders during the entire first lap.

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I spotted David Rowe out supporting on the course, and gave him a shout. This guy is basically the reason I got into Ironman triathlon. I was on a KPMG training day, bored senseless, and I stumbled across his excellent blog. Reading his Ironman UK race report planted a seed that something like that might be worth a go – the rest is history.

I flew past the chippy on Pepper Lane, noting it wasn’t yet open so I wouldn’t be able to stop for a battered sausage. Some of the Chasers support crew had positioned themselves here and I got a real buzz as I clocked them on the side of the road.

By the time I finished lap one/50 miles, I’d ridden myself up into 6th position. I had no idea at the time, but I thought I did catch my mum screaming that I was in 8th as I passed her in Adlington. However, her ability to interpret the tracking app has never been one of her strengths, so I took this with a pinch of salt.

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After nearly crashing into a lady on her first lap who had come to a complete stop in the middle of the road at an aid station, I hit the main climb for the second time, still feeling great and passing a handful who seemed to be going backwards. I couldn’t believe how well it was going, and I had to stop myself from getting too carried away.

I had a jittery moment on the way back down when my front water bottle popped out and nearly went under my front wheel, but thankfully rolled away harmlessly into the bushes.

It was at mile 62 that the wheels (nearly quite literally) came off. Heading down one of the only straight sections, I was approaching a car ahead, on what was meant to be a completely closed roads bike course. Travelling at 25mph, I was catching him quickly and made the decision to safely overtake on the outside whilst he coasted along at a slower speed.

Just as I pulled up alongside him, the clown decided to attempt a 180 degree turn to get onto the other side of the road. I had less than a second to react and nowhere to go. The bike hit his front end, as I continued onward and over his bonnet, ending up in a nice pile on the floor. The only thought running through my head was – ‘race over’.

I got up and had a very unfriendly exchange with the driver; he was understandably mortified and couldn’t stop apologising. My left thigh took the brunt of the impact and was throbbing in pain, with my tri-suit ripped and some blood oozing down my leg. I suddenly remembered I was in a race and went to go and pick up my bike.

Glancing over it, I was waiting for the moment my eyes locked onto a part that was severely damaged, knowing my heart would sink to the floor. Quite amazingly, apart from a dropped chain and a cracked handlebar, it seemed to be structurally sound. In my mind, there was no way I wasn’t at least going to try and ride to transition two.

Waving away offers of paramedics and a lift back to Bolton (as if!), I swung my leg back over and rejoined the race, having lost a good 3 minutes. Beforehand, Paul had said that things will go wrong during the race, but you’ll still have every chance of doing well. I don’t think either of us considered being hit by the car as one of those scenarios, but you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt, right?

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This is what the car looked like when I had finished with it

With 90 minutes left of riding to go, my mind was in a terrible place. I couldn’t put any significant power through my left leg, and all I could think was that even if I do finish the bike, there’s absolutely no way I’ll be able to run a marathon. I thought about just riding easy back to Bolton and then packing it in. For about 3 seconds.

From then I just took it 5 minutes at a time, concentrating on blocking out bad thoughts and riding as efficiently as possible. I ended up in a group with 4 other riders and we rode legally, sharing the workload (although I have to admit I wasn’t much help at this point in time).

The second time up Hunters Hill was a struggle; I couldn’t really stand as we climbed as putting too much force through my leg was pretty painful. Instead I sat and span up, trying to enjoy the crowds which by this point were absolutely amazing.

With 45 minutes to go, I decided the pity party was over, and I pushed on, leaving the group behind. The last few miles were surreal, as the roads were completely empty, so I had a vague idea that despite the crash I’d ridden my way into a decent position. Either that, or I was going completely the wrong way.

Coming into town was an utter relief, as for the last hour I was just waiting for the bike to fall to pieces underneath me at high speed. I took my feet out of my shoes as I passed a couple of the male pro’s coming the other way who had already made it to the top end of the run course. I was dreading the moment that my feet hit solid ground, wondering if my leg was going to be able to take any weight.

  • Bike time – 4:30:37
  • Position: 25th fastest bike split, 2nd in age group.
  • Position after the bike – 40th overall, 2nd in age group.

Strava activity 

I’d moved up to 2nd in my age group after the bike, which was completely new territory for me. Usually, I’m constantly playing catch up throughout the run. I had no idea of my position at the time, but I thought aside from the crash, I’d had a decent ride.

Nutrition wise on the bike, I had one Clif bar and two packs of Clif shot blocks. One of my water bottles had 300 calories worth of UCAN mix in it, giving me a grand total of around 800 calories for the bike. Not much over nearly 6 hours of swimming and biking, but the minimal approach seems to work fairly well for me.

Transition 2

As soon as my feet hit the floor, pain shot through my left leg. Balls. I ran my bike to it’s racking spot, noting the lack of bikes in the transition area; that was pretty cool. I’d gone through transitions a million times in my head over the preceding months, so I calmly went about putting my socks and shoes on as efficiently as possible. Such a pro at getting dressed these days.

I was sharing the change tent with the 2nd pro lady at the time, Angela Neath, and we emerged into the open together. I had a little see-through bag with some gels, my watch and sunglasses in (another idea stolen from David Rowe), so I could deal with those on the fly, saving a few more valuable seconds.

My transition 2 time was 1:51, right up there with the quickest professional men. Minimal faff.

Run

It was immediately clear that was my leg wasn’t great, and I think a few bemused passers by were startled by my rather loud shouts of pain as I ran along. My support crew were out in numbers around the transition area and it was huge boost to see Mum and Dave & the Cleary’s giving it the vocals.

I was quick to tell them, as well as anyone else that would listen, that I’d been hit by a car. I’m pretty sure the whole of Bolton and now indeed the world has found out the facts. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had, the car turns from a Nissan Micra to a Landrover Discovery. I’m sure in years gone by it will turn into a tractor.

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First steps on the run – #notsmooth

It was here I received first of my many updates from Ross Harper. Ross is another Clapham Chaser who I met last year at Ironman Wales – one of the nicest chaps around. As I ran past, complaining about my leg (surprise, surprise), he gave me the complete run down of my position and time gaps to those infront/behind.

Learning I was in 2nd was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, it gave me a massive adrenaline boost, as I knew I was already in a qualifying position. At the same time, I was slightly devastated as I was sure that my chances of getting to the end were slim. The only thing that was certain was that the option of pulling the plug was off the table.

The run course is four laps of 6.5 miles, starting in Bolton before heading out of town up Chorley New Road, via a rather nasty hill in Queens Park. Going into the race I had ambitions of running a 3 hour marathon. This lofty goal had already turned into ‘survive, and don’t get caught’.

Everyone I knew that weekend in Bolton had rather handily strung themselves out across the entire run course. The Woolgars, Cathryn & Ed as well as my Mum and Dave were based in the park at the foot of the hill. Gemma Rutter was with Bryn and Gaby Reynolds at the top. Then I had the Cleary’s popping up seemingly everywhere on Chorley New Road. Last but by no means least, Katie and my good friend Paul Brown were also camped out on the long out and back section.

Lap one was all about settling in. I was still running at 3 hour marathon pace, which was probably too quick but at the time it felt about right. I got excited as one of my favourite male Pro’s, Joe Skipper, was slowly catching me up (he was on his second lap). As he pulled up alongside I had a quick chat, running side by side for a few paces before he blitzed away, winning the race and running a 2:45 marathon in the process. Legend.

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Post-race; one average and one not so average Joe

Coming onto lap two, I was still feeling good. So good in fact, that I rather stupidly said to Katie as I ran past; ‘Pack your bags’. What a moron. I for one, should know how quickly things can change in an ironman marathon. I came back around barely 2 miles later, looking significantly worse for wear. With a grimace on my face, all I could muster was – ‘Katie; unpack your bags’. Oh dear.

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My stomach decided it didn’t want to co-operate soon after this, and I had to dive into a portaloo for a stop. Never easy when you’re wearing a one-piece tri suit – getting undressed on the fly as I ran towards the cubicle. Charging inside, I nearly knocked the entire thing over, which wouldn’t have had a happy ending.

From here on in, the rest of the marathon seemed to blur into one long, drawn-out slog. I knew I was in a battle with those behind me, and that 3rd was gaining. All I could do was just dig in and focus on one mile at a time. At the half-way point I had a 3 minute gap on him; by the start of the final lap this had gone and I’d dropped into 3rd.

I knew beforehand that 3rd would probably be good enough for a slot to Kona. It would either be the top 2 or 3 that qualify, but having spoken to Lewis Ecclestone (the guy that won my age-group), he’d mentioned that he didn’t want to go this year. So I was just focused on finishing on the podium – in my mind that was going to be enough.

It was now that the internal questions were coming thick and fast. ‘Do you really want to go to Hawaii? Surely it can’t be worth this? You could just walk for a bit, it’s not going to make much difference to your overall time’. It took everything I had and a bit more to keep me moving forward on the last lap.

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It was warming up nicely, and I was sticking to my tried and tested strategy of drinking water and coke on the run, as well as throwing as much as I could down the back of my neck at every possible opportunity. I tried to have half an energy gel, but that seemed to nicely coincide with my trip to the bathroom.

If I had £1 for each time I asked someone how far behind 4th was during the last 10 miles, I’d be a millionaire. Luckily for me, everyone seemed to be very understanding and kept telling me what I wanted to hear; the gap wasn’t getting any smaller. With 10km to go Ross told me I could start thinking about swimming with the turtles. I think I said something rude about not giving a stuff about the marine life, but didn’t phrase it quite so eloquently.

The last few miles did include some cheeky little walking breaks through the aid stations, making sure I took on water and kept cool. I forced myself to start running again after 20 seconds had passed, as a I crept ever closer to the finish. I got a tingle of excitement going up Chorley New Road for the last time, realising the support crew weren’t there as they must be making their way to the finish.

The biggest surprise to me was how emotionally calm I stayed during the run (ok – apart from the ‘pack your bags’ moment; maybe I got a bit carried away there). I didn’t allow myself to believe I was going to do it until the very last mile, instead sticking to the task and concentrating on running. As I entered the town centre for the last time, I suddenly realised that this was actually happening, and I immediately started to choke up slightly.

I made the right-hand turn which was reserved for those that had already completed their 4 laps, and suddenly I was on my own in the finish chute. Then the emotions really hit me; all the early starts, all the killer training sessions, all the sacrifices I had to make – it was all worth it. I saw Katie and my family going crazy, and I don’t think I’ve ever has such a massive grin on my face.

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I’ll never be able to put into words the feelings I had crossing that finish line. I think this photo sums it up nicely.

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  • Run time: 3:20:42
  • Position: 32nd fastest run split, 3rd in age group
  • Overall position after run: 28th overall, 3rd in age group. There were 10 professional athletes ahead of me.

Strava activity

I’d moved up from 40th to 28th overall during the run, but actually dropped from 2nd to 3rd in my age group. I can’t say I was thrilled with my run split, but I guess I probably need to take into account getting run over. I’m not sure this is the best tactic to employ when trying to run a fast ironman marathon. It was just a case of gritting my teeth and getting the job done.

After being hauled off the floor in the finishing area, I was desperate to see Katie, but only made it as far as the recovery tent. After sitting down and congratulating Lewis on the age group win, I realised I could no longer move and my leg was pretty buggered. On top of this, I was absolutely spent, struggling to put together logical sentences.

After hearing about the crash, the medical team decided it was best to wheel me away and get me checked over. I did initially try to walk, but now I’d stopped my leg had completely seized up. They cut up what was left of my tri-suit to get a better look at the damage, before strapping me up and letting my lie there for a while and recover.

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Signing out

By this point I’d already made phone calls to my Dad and coach Paul, both resulting in me bursting into tears and babbling away like an idiot. Katie was then allowed entry to the medical tent, and we just grinned at each other like maniacs. She helped me hop outside to see everyone who had come out to support, and it was sweaty hugs all around.

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Post race with Martin; face showing I’m quite clearly still not with it
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Halfway between laughing and crying

I spent the rest of the afternoon in a bit of a daze, waiting for what had happened to really sink in. I still couldn’t be sure that I’d bagged a kona slot until the awards ceremony the following morning, but that didn’t stop us celebrating the result regardless, with plenty of drinks being bought.

Post Race – The Following Day 

Sleep didn’t happen. My body was broken and my mind going into overdrive; what if 3rd didn’t get me a slot after all? I gave up trying just before 4am and went to sit downstairs with my laptop and go through all the amazing messages I’d received from people that had been following the race.

Thankfully, the awards ceremony and slot allocation started early at 8am. Mum and Dave had agreed to stay an extra night and come along, which meant the absolute world to me. We sat with them and all the other Chasers that had battled their way to the finish line.

It turned out that we’d won the triathlon club team prize, so we all made our way up to the podium to celebrate that. It was awesome to share the weekend with Martin, Chris, Michael, Rory and Naomi. Seeing them out on the course and supporting them across the finish line was really inspirational. Naomi more so than any other; I knew how hard she’d worked for it and she didn’t stop smiling the entire day.

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After that, it was time for the individual trophies, and I again made my way up to collect my 3rd place award. Only then did it hit home that I’d grabbed a podium place in a pretty big triathlon – I was pretty chuffed. It also fuelled the motivational fire, as there’s so much more I want to achieve in the sport, and so much I can still improve on.

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Then it was on to the moment we’d been waiting for; the Kona slot allocation. This seemed to go on forever, starting with the oldest female age group and ending with the youngest male. I was on edge, but thankfully had Katie to calm me down. On the other side, I think my Mum was more nervous than I was.

It turned out there would be only 2 spots in my age group, as I’d feared. They called out Lewis’s name 3 times, with no response from the audience. Only then did I truly allow myself to believe this was actually happening. That spot was mine and I was going to Hawaii…

My heart was now racing as the Swiss guy that beat me into second claimed his place. Some people don’t make a big deal of accepting their slot, acting all cool, calm and collected. Balls to that. Paul Kaye barely got halfway through my surname before I was shouting yes and running towards the stage (well, more like a run/hobble). Mum was going crazy and even Dave the Lion was roaring. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

You can actually see the full video here – worth a chuckle.

A lei was put around my neck and I was given a bottle of Kona Big Wave lager – I’m sure Katie and I will have a few more of those once we get to the big island! This is all stuff that I’d always dreamed about but never really truly believed could happen to someone like me. The fat lad from Essex qualifies for the world championships. Someone have a word – this must be a wind up.

I’d like to add at this point, that I’ve never been massively talented or naturally athletic. I finished last in the 1500m at school sports day, and ran my first marathon in just under 5 hours. But if you’ve got a goal, or a dream, and you’re prepared to work hard enough for it, then you can definitely achieve so much more than you could ever imagine.

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The last week and a half have been an absolute whirlwind of celebrating, reflecting and rushing around trying to sort out flights and accommodation for what is going to be a trip of a lifetime. The number of messages I’ve received from people has been insane; it really means the world to me. The race in Kona is on October the 13th, and much to everyone’s horror, I’ll be blogging all about it!

The leg is still slightly screwed and causing me some discomfort, so any running is off the cards for a little while at least. I’m not going to jump back into training too soon and risk not even making the finish line in Hawaii. But once I’m back and fully fit, I’ll be ramping up the workload again in an attempt to put in a good showing.

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The state of my leg 3 days after the crash..

There are so many people that have been a major part of the journey that I need to thank; Dan Holmes for all his help last year, Ray at Swim Canary Wharf for his brilliant coaching, and my friends and family for putting up with all this craziness and supporting me every step of the way.

There are two individuals that I really couldn’t have done it without. At a risk of making his head even bigger than it already is, Paul has been an absolute legend putting up with me and offering the level of support he has. I have no doubt that without his input I wouldn’t be sitting here writing that I’d finished on the podium at Ironman UK and was heading to Kona. The little free time he has, has been spent answering stupid questions and trying to process my constant barrage of feedback. When/if the guy wants to take up coaching, he’ll have people queuing out of the door.

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No prizes for guessing who the second one is. Katie is my rock, and puts up with me always being out training, constantly talking about triathlon or moaning that I’m exhausted. Having the knowledge on the morning of the race that she wanted this as much as I did meant the world to me, and really spurred me on through the dark moments. She’s earned the trip to Hawaii more than I have, and we’re going via the Chicago marathon, where I can’t wait to see her reap the rewards of all her hard work.

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I don’t really know how to sign this one off, as it’s a blog I never expected to be writing. I guess there’s only one way to do it really;

Kona, baby!

17 thoughts on “Ironman UK 2018 – Bike & Run

  1. This was a page turner…been coming here to be entertained, today I’ll also leave two thumb-ups. Best at Kona. Will be running Chicago too and you’ll probably be the guy whizzing past with tractor in tow…

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  2. Joe – what an amazing achievement. Such mental strength to keep going despite such a set back with the accident, as well as coping with the physical pain. Totally in awe. All the best for Hawaii, you’ve earned it.

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    1. Thanks Peter, really nice of you to say. Can’t wait to do it all over again!

      Hope your running is going well, and hopefully bump into you on the river again sometime in the near future!

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  3. Joe – just finished reading about Ironman. What a fantastic achievement! Unbelievably proud and telling all my friends about the terrible things you had to overcome during the cycle ride.Hope the leg is healing….

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