Having road tripped over to Slovakia, passing Brugge, Frankfurt and Prague, we finally made the 1200-mile trip to Samorin. Training had all been going well in the lead up to the race and I was feeling strong and on good form, raring to go. I’d sorted out 3 recent punctures and a broken spoke (thank you to Terry Wright’s Cycles) and now with them all armed with sealant, I was hoping all the mechanical issues were sorted. As they say, things happen in three’s and I was hoping that was true – well apart from the broken spoke!
Six kilometres down the road from the race start, in a place called Bac, we found a place that we’d soon call home for the next few days. It was a very traditional hotel and very useful that the bike course went straight past it. We had plenty of space to relax and prepare for the race, away from all the hype – it even had a spa or so it said … I never managed to find time to go there though.
Having ridden 30km of the course and driven the rest, each kilometre was pretty similar to the other – flat, open and long with the exception of the bridge, at the furthest point, where most of the course’s 74m of ascent was accumulated. There was a tailwind heading out and a slight headwind coming back but not enough to feel uncomfortable on a disc.
Race day had finally arrived. My bike and gear was all in transition from the night before, so all that was left to do was to check my bike over, put it into gear, pump the wheels up, attach my shoes, Garmin, helmet, sunglasses and number belt along with filling up my bottles and finally checking my ‘swim-to-bike’ bag and ‘bike-to-run’ bag, making sure I had everything else I needed in there, with all three bags around me and racking my ‘swim-to-bike’ bag, I turned around only to find that someone had nicked my ‘bike-to-run’ bag. I was sure that I just had it next to me. I looked around to see whether I had already racked it or whether someone else had taken it but couldn’t see it anywhere. I ran back into transition and thankfully found it cast over and abandoned near the entrance … why the athlete who took it couldn’t just bring it back and apologise for taking the wrong one I don’t know but it didn’t matter now. I had found it again. With it soon racked above my swim bag, all that was left to do was a quick run through, making sure that I knew where everything was, what I needed to pick up and when and how to get to my bike, remembering the row and position.
All done and out of transition. Bags racked. Bike racked. Run through complete. I was ready. Now with my wetsuit on, I was just waiting to start. I managed to watch the pros come out of the water and head off onto the bike as they started an hour before my wave … head start and all that 😉
At 9:50 we made our way into the water and with a brief warm up done, we were soon counting down.
3…2…1…BANG…we were off. I was positioned at the front, in the middle and I managed to hold my own in the initial scramble. With guys either side, I just tried to get into a rhythm. There was a bit more pushing and shoving in this race but I knew that it’d soon be over and we’d string out a bit more and gain a little more space. After a slight battle of space, with a kick to my front, some half strokes, as other competitors killed them, causing me to put some of that polar bear drill into practice (very useful), I soon got into open water.
Still, with people either side, we made our way to the first buoy, then the second before the three of us morphed around the blue-capped athletes that had started in the wave before. Re-joining again on the other side and repeating this process for a bit, we soon caught up with some others from our wave. A push from the left, a collapsed arm on my right as someone stopped it mid stroke, a kick from the front, I was boxed in by seven others, four in front, one to my left and two to my right. I knew that I wasn’t able to swim around them and the only way was to go through them but I wondered whether I should ease the pace, stay with them and draft in the nice protected position I was in or to create a space in front, separate two of them and push on past. I decided for the latter, as it was still early days, being only around 750m into the swim, and I wasn’t ready to ease off quite yet. I slowly edged forward, minding the kicks, and pushed for a bit of space. Two of the people in front seemed to move away from each other slightly, creating just enough room. I quickly made use of this gap, speeding up and joining the four guys that had been in front. With the five of us now in a row, there was a bit more of a battle for space again as we came to the next buoy.
I was soon back into a rhythm though and now with only one of them staying with me we made our way through some of the slower white-capped athletes, we passed the next buoy, and turned back to head for shore. Half way!
Heading through areas of clean water followed by heavily polluted petrol waves caused by the supporting camera crews and jet boats, was not the best and at times making me feel rather ill. However, what can you do apart from push on … I’m nearly there anyway. I was imagining the last bit of the swim where I had to turn the last buoy, before the 50m or so to the steps on the shore. I thought I was a 100m or so from it, so I increased my pace, kept an eye on the person that had been beside me, left him behind me and managed to bridge the gap to some of the pink-capped athletes. I soon passed the buoy only to realise that that was the half way buoy of the straight I was on, so another 300 m or so to go. Oh well, I had pulled away from the others around me and was in a bit clearer waters and still felt strong, I continued to push on by, trying to stay in a rhythm, being slightly disrupted every time I caught up with some of the athletes from the earlier waves but finally made it around the last buoy and swam to shore.
Being pulled out of the water, I made my way up the stairs, running up them on all fours as I tried to regain normality from the dizziness out of the water. I soon reached the top, stood up and ran up over the hill and down the steep bridge on the other side trying to reach for the zip, pulling my wetsuit down.
Soon into transition, I ran to collect my bag, up the aisle, second rack, bag 2010, 2011, 2013 …where’s 2012… someone’s taken my bag!! I looked again. 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2015 … ok, what do I do? What do I do? I scanned again, looked at the officials and thought ok I only have socks in there … not vital! Maybe they’ll just take my wetsuit off me and I’ll run without socks later … I knew I should’ve put them in my other bag! Can’t believe this has happened twice in one day! Ahh, oh well, you can’t do anything.
I ran into the changing tent, only to see an athlete run back with a bag. I stopped him, checked the number and realised it was mine. Thank you … I’ll take that. The official shrugged her shoulders and gave a slight look of comfort knowing what it must’ve felt like, but I was soon off, into the tent, emptied my bag onto the bench, shoved my wetsuit, goggles and hat in, put my socks on, came out and threw my bag on the pile before running around the top of transition, down the third aisle from the end and down to my bike, that was in line with the toilets. Number belt on, glasses on, helmet on and clipped in, bike unracked, I headed out to the mount line, running patiently behind someone that couldn’t run with his bike. However, as soon as we turned the corner at the end of transition, I accelerated around him, up a small ramp, round the following corner, before passing the mount line and off onto the bike. Feet on top, passed the first corner, feet in, tightened up, over the cobbled path, turned the next corner, onto the road, passed another rider and started my Garmin. 90km to go!
Head down and now settling into the race, I overtook a few more athletes, I was out of the X-Bionic Sphere complex and now heading out through Samorin. The atmosphere and support from the crowd was great, cheering and whistling from all sides. I soon passed the bumpy roads, and the three sharp dog-legged corners, to make my way onto the 6km stretch to Bac. I stayed down and was enjoying overtaking the line of athletes that were stretched out for miles in front.
The weather was in our favour too. Perfect for racing. Warm, probably mid-20s, but clouds too, which were pretty much non-existent the week before.
Making sure I was staying hydrated and taking my TORQ gels, every so often, I soon reached Bac. We took the right bend, watched out for the uneven manholes, past our hotel and onto the 10km stretch to Horny Bar. I was feeling great and on good form too. This was the segment that I had done in the lead-up to the race so I knew what it was like and I was comfortable down on the bars with the disc.
Staying out in the middle of the road, overtaking the long row of athletes gave me a boost and I was feeling great, with an average speed of around 42.5kph by this point, I soon reached Baka, another 7km on, and made my way through the first aid station, without stopping as I knew I had plenty to get me to the 45km mark, where I’d have to fill up on water again.
Now making my way to Gabcikovo, the town where we’d take another right to head over the River Danube, I was looking forward to being able to get out of my saddle for a bit and relieve myself from the 30km of long continuous roads which had allowed for no breaks at all. Flat courses have their own struggles and can be tough!
Entering the town, it was nice to see even more support out on the roads, school children all in uniform with flags (on a Saturday too), locals watching from their gardens, volunteers manning the corners and supporting too, it was great!
I soon reached the ‘hill’ over the Danube, all 15m of it, but it gave me just enough time to get out of the saddle before heading back down onto the bars on the other side.
Now riding along the narrow pathway beside the river, which was a good 12km stretch, I started to feel slightly uncomfortable in the saddle, it had been a long road up to now, with no breaks and it had seemed to have gone on for ages, now with uneven surfaces too, it wasn’t the best, especially when being forced over the worst patches to pass other riders.
About 6km down the path, I noticed that people were gaining on me, I pulled into the long stretch of riders and looked at their numbers as they went past … 2013, 2015, 2010 … all in a row and all my age group. Really!? … Maybe I wasn’t feeling so good. Around 5 seconds later 2008 overtook too. I tried to keep up with the four of them but I wasn’t feeling as strong. I just watched the first three of them head off, getting further and further away. I felt tall next to all the female riders that I had been passing but these four made me feel really small on my little bike. I suppose power-weight ratio doesn’t mean much and being 6ft – 6ft4 with some size has its advantage on this course. I did think to myself … what do you expect … this is the World Championships … it wasn’t going to be easy to podium.
Knowing that there were at least four people in front of me by the turnaround, all overtaking me on my better discipline, I started to give up mentally. I let a thought enter my head, saying ‘just enjoy the race – there’s no point racing anymore – take it easier and enjoy it’. However, I soon kicked that out of my head, that’s not me – I haven’t come all this way to ‘take it easy’, I’m going to give it my best, otherwise what’s the point. I might not podium but I can’t control who turns up and what state others are in but I can race against myself and I’m going to go for a personal best. So that’s what I was now racing for.
Turning around, refilling my bottle with water and mixing it with some TORQ Energy, I soon made my way back over the bridge, into Gabcikovo and then onto Baka, continually rotating with bib number 2008. I could tell that he was uncomfortable with being down but so was I. I kept trying to push through the discomfort switching off my head and saying it’s just another hour … just another 50 minutes … 40 minutes … 30 minutes, but every excuse I had to get out, I took. I was not enjoying it and still had some way to go, I just wanted to get off the bike but I knew I couldn’t.
Managing to last out, I made it back into Samorin, past the dog-legged turns and into the X-Bionic Sphere, having averaged 40kph, and finished the bike in 2hrs20 almost dead on.
Feet out, leg over, I dismounted and ran into transition. I had done it! No punctures. No mechanicals. Yippee! Three’s indeed! I ran down my aisle, racked the bike, helmet off, and ran to get my ‘bike-to-run’ bag. Please let it still be there … please let it still be there. It was indeed! So far, so good … into the changing tent … empty bag, bend down to reach my shoes… oh that’s one very sore and stiff back, but I managed to get them on, even if I did look a bit robotic and had some odd looks from other athletes as I struggled to bend down. Cap on, TORQ gels down my top and off I went, out of transition, over the mat and around the corner. 21km to go! 3 laps and a bit to go, including 10.2km of concrete, 5.9km of grass, 2.7km of tile and 2.3km of sand/felt – a real mix of surfaces!
I felt great. I felt strong and my backache seemed to have disappeared. No pain or numbness in my feet and I felt fresh. Time to track down 2010, 2013 and 2015, who had overtaken me on the bike, and keep 2008 off my tail.
Deciding to keep to a pace of just over 15kph, I headed around the course, collecting bands every lap, along with cooling myself down with the sponges and water provided at pretty much every aid station (27 in total). It was over 30 degrees now and there was no cloud cover either, I knew that I had to keep fuelling properly, stay cool and hydrated, as 21km is a long way and anything can happen in that time. I kept track of where everyone was. I spotted a few of them and realised that I was gaining on them but only slightly.
At the beginning of lap two, I overtook one of them (didn’t have a name for him), and then another of the 6ft4 guys, Mr Black and Blue (or so I called him – based on his tri suit), and targeted the next, keeping track of Mr Orange and Mr Giant (The guy in a bright orange suit and the guy that rode a Giant TT bike that I had been switching with repetitively – AKA bib number 2008). You have to keep track of them somehow. With Mr Black and Blue, Mr Orange and Mr Giant behind me, I was gaining on the field and I started to gain some more confidence and push a little harder.
I had been watching where Mr White and Black was, lap after lap, but it seemed like he was managing to keep his distance. However, on the final lap, on the out and back, I noticed that I was closing on him, he was now only 100m or so in front, I turned the final cone and made my way back, keeping track of him as he passed through the aid station. I took a couple of sponges, drenched my neck and squeezed the rest over my head, before throwing them to the side and picking up the pace. With three kilometres or so to go, I just kept rotating my legs, pushing on by and soon that 100m became 60, then 30, then 10, I was right behind him. I can actually take him and he was the last one I had seen in front. I wondered whether I should just wait behind him and nip him at the end or to go past but again I decided for the latter. I was going to go for it. I was feeling good and knew that I could make a gap. I picked up the pace again and I was now down to a 3:40/km pace. I felt great and although the heat was tough, I knew that it’d soon be over.
By the next turn point, I had gained 100m or so and then by the next it had become 150m or so. I soon crossed the track, went over a little hill, down the other side and left into the finishing arena, around the outside, along the red mat, and onto the finishing straight. Looking at the time of 5hrs21, I was absolutely chuffed, that had meant that I had done a 4hr21 Half Ironman (as my wave started an hour after). I was ecstatic. I high fived my mum in the crowd, let up my arms and enjoyed the moment as I crossed that final line with a final time of 4hrs22.
Although I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to podium this time, missing out and coming 4th, by 13 seconds (possibly the bag mess up in T1), I did manage 4 new Personal Best’s – 1 minute off the swim, 12 off the bike, 9 off the run and 31 minutes off my last year Half Ironman/Challenge times. Yes, the bike was flat so that was bound to be a new PB but with choppier water, the heat and running on a real mix of surfaces, I’ve definitely improved on last year and so I’m absolutely chuffed with how it went! I broke my 4:30 target and so now it’s time to go sub 4:15 and with the help of Mark at IntelliTri, I know that’ll be possible. I also came top 50, coming 44th overall and raced amongst some of the greatest Ironman World Champions, Olympians and many other great athletes. It was truly special. One day perhaps!
I’d now like to say a massive thank you to Mark @IntelliTri, who plans all my training and provides great and interesting sessions that continue to make me stronger and improve time and time again. I can feel the difference that we’ve made and with 4 new PB’s all in this one race, I think his training speaks for itself!
I’d also like to say thank you to all my sponsors, Apex and daysout.co.uk, for the amazing bike and their continued support, TORQ for all their great nutrition and help in the lead up to get some more TORQ gels after forgetting them…although I did remember the TORQ Energy, Bars and Recovery, the Stamford Endowed Schools and the LEAP Athlete program for their financial support. Cycle Transfer and 1LIFE, for their help. Susannah Beckett’s Podiatry for providing me with great shoes to run and cycle in, Runaround Sports, Worcester for their great run advice and fitting, the technique change has definitely brought some extra speed and endurance and to Terry Wrights Cycles, Peterborough who managed to fit me in to fix my two punctures and the broken spoke I had before coming out here.
I’d also like to thank the Samorin bike shop, Bike Union, for fixing, yes, another puncture and for recommending great places to eat and to Challenge for such a well-organised, great event and to the amazing volunteers and supporters all around the course.
I’d also like to say a massive thank you to my mum for all her support during the lead-up, on the road trip and on the day in the 30-degree heat. I appreciate it all and it would, without a doubt, be a lot harder without you. I just love the photo of me running past and giving you a high-five at the end!
Lastly, thank you to everyone at home and around the world, for the support, kind messages, training, advice and the many other things.
Till next time,