Soon after getting back from the European Duathlon Championships in Kalkar, Germany, where I managed to get my first sub 2-hour standard distance duathlon, earning me a place on the podium in 3rd, I didn’t have long to go till my next race, Challenge Rimini, my first Half Ironman distance (1.9km swim, 93km bike, 21.1km run). So after having a few more weeks of training it was soon time to fly out. Italy here we come!!!
Arriving in Bologna, we caught the train to Rimini, passing through the lovely Italian countryside, whilst playing a few card games of course, followed by a little bus journey to our apartment, where we’d stay for the week. It was only a few hundred meters from the beach and even closer to the run course which meant it was easy enough to recce the run and swim, whenever I wanted. It was perfect.
After a little journey down to the beach, we stocked up on food and had a coffee on our balcony overlooking all the rooftops. Oh it was good…loved it, especially with the sun shining, 30-degree heat and most importantly sat with a good coffee…this is the life of a triathlete (whilst tapering anyway).
The lead up to the race was perfect. I explored the bike course, swam in the sea numerous times, got used to the run course and enjoyed the surroundings, meaning that I drank coffee, sat on the beach in the sun, had massages and enjoyed relaxing whilst doing the odd training session that Mark had set me.
Sunday 8th May, race day had arrived!!! Due to the nice casual race start timings and being set off, in the last wave, at 10:30am, I woke up at a nice leisurely time of 7am. Leaving at 8:15 (ish), after breakfast, to go down to transition, I prepared my area and did a walk through of transition. After being happy with it all, I found myself being faster at setting up than expected and so waited a while before warming up and heading to the start pens, that we’d move through every 5 minutes.
After warming up and now getting closer and closer to the front pen, I watched wave after wave setting off and couldn’t wait to get started. I was ready, training done, transition sorted, and now time to put everything into practice.
After what seemed to be a long time, we were eventually allowed in the front pen. I ran to get a spot in the middle, as I noticed that two groups typically formed, one going to the right of the first buoy and one going to the left, meaning that I’d be in between and get a bit of space and able to move through the other waves if necessary. Only 5 minutes to go!
With the photographers at the ready, the sun blazing and the man with the horn making sure we were behind the line, I put my goggles on, and waited for the horn to sound. I waited anxiously.
Soon after, I found myself along with the other 180 or so, running towards the sea, leaping over the first few waves and then finally diving in, we were off, the race had began and we were on the way to the first buoy. Just had to remember ‘turn at the red buoys and use the black ones as guidance’.
As expected, I found myself in a great position, two groups quickly formed and I was able to choose what I thought was the better line, heading just to the right of the first buoy. I had no one to kick me in the face or to disrupt my swim, I got into a rhythm and I felt good, with a swimmer just to my right, I could just hear Tony, my university coach, saying ‘GET CLOSER, BE FRIENDLY AND DON’T BE SHY’. So that’s what I did. I couldn’t feel whether it was working but we stuck together, swapping every so often. As we got closer and closer to the second buoy, the first turn in the swim, the two packs formed again and it was everyone for themselves, trying to survive the washing machine chaos at the first red buoy.
Managing to survive, it was time to look up and sight to see where the next red buoy was, with the waves heading towards me, I struggled to see it, I tried a few times but still no luck. I resorted to another tactic and tried to time the wave correctly so that I was at the top of it, hopefully giving me a better view. I still couldn’t see it though. I followed the people around me, hoping that they knew where they were going but I wanted to make sure, so I tried again, but this time trying to catch sight of a black one, which was closer. I finally caught a glimpse of it. Yay, got it! With a slight change in direction, I was on my way again, getting into a good rhythm, with the odd hiccup as a wave hit me, stunting my movement somewhat.
On the way to that second buoy, a few of us got a bit closer for some reason and I found myself trying to survive and fight through with someone catching my arm every stroke I did with my right arm, someone hitting my legs, and people closing in on my left. Being slightly annoyed that my right arm kept being hit every stroke, I just kept pushing and remembered all the open water sessions I had done. I wasn’t going to let this guy overtake and cut me off!
Thankfully our individual fight for the water was over but it wasn’t long till I was in another washing machine, as we turned the next buoy. This time I felt a massive current pull me around and now with the waves were behind, I was flying. I pushed harder and tried to get into a good rhythm, timing the waves to get the most out of each stroke.
With the 3rd buoy coming up quickly, I prepared myself and made sure that I got a good line, especially as there were a few slower, cautious swimmers in front from the previous waves. Not long to go now, I could see the beach and we only had one more buoy to go round and then it was the home straight. Passing as many people as I could, I pushed on, every person I take now means one less in transition to get in the way and to worry about.
Trying to stay in a relatively straight line, from 3rd to 4th buoy, proved to be hard, riding across the waves meant that I felt like I was swimming sideways but there were only a few hundred meters to go and having caught some of the competitors from the previous two waves, I just kept pushing, focussing on my stroke and aiming for that last turn.
Passing the last buoy it was now time to swim once again with the waves behind and make the final effort. Catching and passing a lot of the people around me with the one or two swimmers from my wave sticking with me we were battling it out. I could now hear the music and people cheering every time I came up to breath or sight. It was nearly over and soon it would be time for my favourite part, the bike, absolutely love it!!!
With the shallow waters for the last 50m or so, I found that it was faster to stand and dive, stand and dive. A few people were doing the same around me and we soon left those that would rather waddle or walk to shore. It must’ve been an odd look but I didn’t mind.
Running out of the water and up to the long thin transition, I tried to locate my wetsuit zip, struggling slightly for a few seconds, a fellow competitor helped and pulled it down for me, thanking him and with that sorted, I pulled it down to my waist, ran over the transition timing mat, then to the ‘Coconut café with the Moët tree vase’ where my bike was, taking my hat and goggles off on route. I chucked them down on the floor next to my bike, I put my glasses on, helmet on whilst simultaneously treading out of my wetsuit and chucking that on top of the goggles and hat, socks on, bike off the rack, I legged it out of transition. Feeling like I was running on clouds, I was flying down the carpet.
With the supporters cheering, music blasting and sun still shining, I passed the mount line and was soon off on the bike, passing the first roundabout before heading out on the 5km promenade before heading inland to the lovely Italian countryside.
It was time to take a quick sip of my TORQ gel before settling down. Passing bike after bike, with no one sticking with me, I found myself constantly in the left lane, overtaking. I knew 60 of the 93km bike from the recce’s done the week before, leaving only 33km of unknown territory, but as it was an out and back so it was only really 16km or so, which gave me some confidence and meant that I knew roughly what to expect.
Having finished the first 5km stretch along the beachfront it was time to go in land, a few roundabouts taking us out onto the main dual carriageway, before taking a right, a left, up a slight hill and round under the carriageway again bringing us out at a military airport.
A few more straight segments later, it was time for the first few hills, nothing too tasking, just quick short hills that required the legs to burn slightly but with a quick recovery to follow. There was a real rhythm to the first part of the course, straight, fairly flat course, followed by a quick burst up a hill, recover and power on. I loved it!
Staying on the outside, I was feeling good, I was overtaking group after group, and I distanced myself as much as possible to prevent myself from getting a time penalty, even knowing that I was doing nothing wrong, there’s something about having a motorbike behind you that I really don’t like!
Not long after the picture below was taken, there was a hill that broke most peoples rhythm. It was long, lots of people in the way and the road surface didn’t help. I dropped my gears down and just went for it. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke, weaving my way through the other riders, I was making good progress and good speed. Another turn and another hill but I just kept going, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, that’s all it was. I got to the top, turned the corner and saw the first of three feed stations but having only done 17km on the bike, I was fine. I had my TORQ gels in one bottle and enough water in the other. It was only 30km till the next one! So I raced on.
Passing the 30km mark, I was excited about the unexplored territory that I hadn’t been able to see prior to the race. Always like a little bit of a surprise…makes it fun! I did know that it was the hilliest section of all but that was it.
Soon after, the hills started rolling in, and the first one I got out of my saddle and rocketed up, then there was a flatter but still uphill bit before taking a right where we’d loop round before heading back. The hill seemed never ending, but that didn’t bother me, I was feeling good and I was making a lot of time up on the other riders around me. I think that all those hill rep sessions and rides in San Francisco really helped. I got into the mindset of just saying to myself, it’s just another hill, enjoy this one and there’ll be another one after.
It was an amazing feeling, the enjoyment of climbing on my TT came back, unlike at Dambuster, and I felt like nothing was going to stop us. Whenever it levelled off slightly, I dropped the gears and powered on.
Now at the 43km mark, I knew I’d soon be on my way back. The hill started levelling off and we started to descend, reaching over 65kph and going down the hairpin bends was a great feeling. Although, someone overtook me, how dare he!
By now I was expecting the turnaround point and to be heading back down but that wasn’t the case. As we turned a corner, we started going back up. That didn’t matter though. As you know by now … I love hills and I was still feeling strong. Just another challenge and it meant that I soon caught up with the guy that overtook me. No one does that to me haha or not for long anyway.
With people coming down the other side and reaching the 47km mark, we passed through the aid station. This time I grabbed a bottle of water (politely, of course) pulled the top off and poured it in my aero bottle. I’d never practiced refilling it on the move before but I’d been through how to do it a lot of times and thankfully it paid off. In fact it was even better than I thought and I managed to do it quick enough to grab another bottle 30m down the line to pour over me! Oh that was refreshing!!
Ok so now the downhill begins and with the wind behind me, it was time to get the average speed back up. Refuelling every so often with the TORQ gels, I was racing back to the beach front, 45km to go and then only a 21km run to do.
Averaging 46kph to the next feed station felt amazing, it really was just a matter of staying hydrated and fuelled whilst staying down on the bars and pushing power through the pedals. Think all those 20-minute efforts that my coach, Mark Pearce, set me during training really helped, so thank you Mark.
The kilometres went by quickly and I was soon back in known territory, back onto that familiar 30km, another quick refill before heading back down the bumpy downhill section, turning right at the roundabout and heading back over the picturesque landscape, where the picture above was taken, up a short hill before heading back down to the military base.
I was now on the flat. Just trying to gain as much as I could before the run. A long straight, then a slight turn, another straight and a slight turn, then back under the dual carriageway, round the corner, up a slight hill before joining the dual carriageway for the final 10km.
Coming back along the beach front, it was now time to prepare for the run, I had the last bit of water and the remaining TORQ gel I had left, before doing the last technical part, going round the back of the buildings getting to the other end of transition, joining the part we came out of the swim. With the marshal’s telling us to slow down, unnecessarily may I add as we still had another few hundred meters to go, I took my feet out and placed them on top of my shoes, ready for the dismount.
Dismounting successfully and quickly, I ran back through transition, back to the Coconut Café, racked my bike, helmet off, shoes on, and legged it again. Passing the timing mat, the 21.1km run was now underway. I felt good, no cramp, no knee or foot problems, the sun had cooled slightly and I was still passing people. That is good!
Collecting my first band of three, one for each lap, I prepared myself and tried to pace it well, aiming for a 1hr 21, with an out and back course along the promenade I was sure pacing would be fairly easy to maintain and control.
Keeping track on my watch, the first half of the first lap went well. The support was amazing, the pace was good and I still felt strong, I had a slight pain in my foot but it really didn’t last long and then it disappeared. I turned around, passed over the mat and headed back to the main roundabout to then start the second lap. I could just about see the big wheel, just behind transition, in the distance and I just focussed on every stroke, making sure that it was strong and just going in my own zone, blocking out everything else.
The music from the roundabout started getting louder and louder the closer I got, and the first lap was nearly complete, just two more to go. I collected the next band and headed back out. However, as I got back onto the promenade after the roundabout, I didn’t feel as strong as I had been. It’s hard to describe what it felt like, it wasn’t physical, or probably it was, but it felt like my eyes just wanted to close, probably exhaustion maybe dehydration, as it was a long race but I was determined to push through it. With my mind telling me to stop, pull over and have a rest, I refused and kept putting one leg in front of the other, with the speed slowly dropping, I tried lifting it back up but I’d find myself heading back down the speed ramp.
Come on I told myself, push it! Keep going! You’ve done an Ironman for goodness sake and with knee injuries too. You can do this. Come on, just keep those legs moving, keep going, block out everything else and don’t worry about speed at the moment. Just keep going. You’ll get there.
With another lap under my belt, and the next and final band collected, I was on the last lap. Only 7km to go now! However, it was tough, mentally tough. I knew I had to do something to get myself from dropping off, especially as I knew that I’d probably be caught up if I didn’t get moving a bit faster. So feeling like the race had turned and my mood had dropped, I tried another tactic that I was told to do in Ironman Wales that worked really well. Split the lap up with the aid stations, run to the next one, then walk whilst drinking/eating and then carry onto the next one.
So that’s what I did. Taking water and eating a cut up banana at the first one, I carried on. My pace increased again and I was back up to the pace I reset myself, a 1hr30 pace.
A couple of kilometres later, at the next feed station, I drank some more, poured the rest over my head to cool down and continue on. I felt better already and I was overtaking again. This is good, I told myself. I could tell that this tactic was a lot quicker and I felt a lot better too. I started feeling strong again and I had pushed through my mental blip.
Passing the final turnaround cone, I was on the last stretch, 3.5km then it was all over! As I got closer and closer to the finishing line, I started building up the pace. I knew there wasn’t long left and I was going to give it everything I had. I started overtaking people faster and faster, and I could see the roundabout and the thick line of supporters that were lining the end of the stretch.
I came up to the roundabout, made a turn towards the red carpet, quickly looked behind and as my foot touched the carpet, the feeling and the atmosphere just was just amazing, the crowd were cheering, the music blasting, the photographer’s ready, it was just incredible. I put my hands up and crossed the line. The race, for me, was over … I was so happy and so relieved.
Tired, I built up enough energy to walk on a bit further to received a bottle of water and the 2016 Challenge Rimini completion medal … oh it was worth it. I then had to sit down. My legs were knackered!!! You can’t really blame me.
A short time after, still sat in the same place, I received another bottle of water and then saw my mum. I went over, preparing myself first. I then went for a lot of food at the recovery table and then a massage before heading back, still knackered and recovering still.
After looking at the results list, I found out that I had crossed the line in a time of 4 hours 53 minutes and 52 seconds, coming 2nd in my AG, 26th non-elite and 5th fastest non-elite bike split of the day with a time of 2:34:51. So happy! Thank you so much Mark (my coach), you really have helped and I can feel the improvements in both the training sessions and the races.
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to my mum that supported me so much, from organising to cooking to cycling with me for most of the run (yes, I did notice you following). You were amazing and I can’t thank you enough.
I’d also like to thank all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the bike and gear along with their continued support and backing, TORQ for their amazing sports nutrition products (www.torqfitness.co.uk), Warwick Physio + Rehab for their help in making sure I’m fit and ready to race and to the Stamford Endowed Schools for their financial support. Along with my family, friends and Charlotte (who without knowing, really pushed me on the run), you have all supported me massively throughout my various competitions and have helped me get to where I am now, so thank you.
Until next time, keep smiling, train hard and enjoy it,