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Stafford to South Africa via Edinburgh

We’ve all been there. We’ve finished a race, looked at our time, picked up our medal and gone about collecting our kit before going home without a second thought to the prize giving and roll down ceremony. This is what we did after Ironman 70.3 Stafford. It wasn’t that we had a particularly slow time, on the contrary Leanne was in the top 5 and I was also at the sharp end of the age group, it was just that it didn’t even cross our minds to go to the roll down ceremony. Maybe the World Championships weren’t on our radar then? Whatever it was, we packed up and left only to be told afterwards that both our names were called at the roll down.

Without the Worlds being something we had thought about before that moment they most definitely were for the days after. We were kicking ourselves over for not thinking about a trip to South Africa beforehand and immediately turned our heads towards Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh to see if it was feasible to race and repeat with the obvious exception of going to the roll down!

We checked the results from the previous year and watched the horrifying you tube clips of the swim, did some research on how to get there and back and remained undecided. It was a long shot but we could just about get there and back ok and although it was quite close to Stafford we were confident of doing enough to be in with a shout of roll down. Did we enter then? No. There was no chance I was going to enter until I saw what the weather was going to do!

We are very fortunate to have a great bunch of friends in Edinburgh who could give us accommodation and a few would be able to come and give us much needed support out on the race course. Once we saw the week long forecast that covered race day we took a gamble and pressed the go button on the entry and set about booking the required flights. This was the Monday before race day.

We boarded the plane at very early o’clock in Bristol wearing shorts and a t-shirt. We got off the plane at early o’clock in a very grey and cold Edinburgh. This was not what we were expecting! We have enough experience of Edinburgh to know about the Haar and that it would clear but it was still a bit worrying.

After a seamless transition from airport to our home for the weekend we set about building bikes. Bike one all fine, great!

Bike two, all fine bar a tiny paint scrub. Right, let’s just test the gears……..nothing. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expect a different result but this is what I did for a good five minutes! After a few frantic calls to various bike shops who wouldn’t touch it (no one seems to like working on a Giant Trinity, not even Giant mechanics!) I decided to dismantle the bike and open up its bowels with flash backs to IM Barcelona the year before where a brake problem caused me to miss bike check in time. I have zero experience with electric gears and struggle to connect the DVD player to the TV so this was a bold move for me.

I found the root of the problem, a broken cable and set about hot wiring my bike in the hope it would work. Amazingly it did and everything seemed fine! I didn’t want to turn the handlebars, go over any bumps or exercise the gears but at least they worked.

Without a car, we had to cycle to registration and then the 12 miles of so down to the swim start to rack our bikes on Saturday. We had planned on a practice swim but 1) there were loads of white horses and 2) it was flipping freezing so we bailed and hitched a ride back into Edinburgh with some kind fellow competitors and caught up with Fenella Langridge for a quick coffee. She had driven some of the course the day before and told us all she could. Sadly, she didn’t tell us how to win – she obviously kept that to herself!

Race day came around and we used the laid-on buses to get to the start. No complaints about the bus service, it all seemed very well organised. Problems started in transition though. There were 10 toilets for all competitors, staff and spectators. Yep, just 10. The queue ran all the way around transition like a snake and we were stuck in it for best part of an hour. So much so that we were being forcibly evicted from transition before we had fully set up despite arriving with what should have been plenty of time to spare. We then had to run in our wetsuits to the start pen to make it on time.

The swim was flat and couldn’t be much better conditions. There was a lot of tide running though and the homeward leg was straight into the sun making it tricky to see anything.

As soon as I got on my bike I realised it was going to be a tough day out. I was capable of about 50w less than I would normally expect and that was all I had. O oh! The wind was picking up by then and I had an idea of the terrain to expect.

What I didn’t expect was the road surface. Silly given the amount of time I have spent in Scotland! It was speed sapping and chaffing. It resulted in a much harder bike that the terrain would suggest and with less than my full arsenal of wattage it was all I could do just to maintain a position and not fall further down the field.

At last Arthurs Seat was right in front of me and I knew that I had a sharp climb and then I could free wheel into T2.

Out on to the run course which at that time was quiet. I knew that I had worked too hard on the bike just to hold where I was so I was expecting my legs to give in. I didn’t expect them to give in quite so soon though, it was all I could do to just about get past the first photographer before I came grinding to a halt with cramp in my quads. A little walk and salt got me going again but I was conscious of holding back all race to avoid another onset.

The run course is one of the most enjoyable I’ve ever done. Its three big 7km loops but with a big hill in the middle and a turn at either end, simple. The really fun bit though is a 1km stretch inside a dark, damp tunnel that on a hot day can save your race. Its 500m uphill in the dark and then 500m downhill, it’s perfectly straight so you can see the end but you have no real perception of speed because your Garmin won’t work underground and the thumping music kinda spaces you out a bit.

As more and more people joined the course the more fun it got, there was fantastic support all the way around and it is a very pretty place to run with loads to look at.

I got the end of my final lap after an unremarkable run. If I was more recovered from Stafford I am confident that I could run 5 or 10 minutes quicker on that course. Was it enough for the roll down though?

After Leanne finished we had enough time to get our bikes and go back home for a shower before walking in once again for the roll down ceremony.

It was a bit nerve racking, there were a lot of people wanting these slots. The chap sat next to me was from Port Elizabeth and had flown to Edinburgh especially so he could qualify for a world Championships in his home town!

First up were the girls and Leanne was safely in! My turn next….

I got it. Phew! Now we needed to go and pay. We had discussed that, right? Our strategy was pay now work it out later! Roll on a wedding anniversary in South Africa! There were slots for the 2019 World Championships available too and as

much as we wanted them, we were late for dinner with our friends so didn’t hang around. Perhaps we haven’t learnt our lesson!

Would I recommend Edinburgh to someone else? Yes, but only if the weather conditions were good and they were a strong swimmer. The bike and run course are nothing to worry about but certainly could catch you out if it was wet and cold.

Would I have gone at the last minute if the weather hadn’t been great and there was free accommodation on offer? No, probably not but I would have regretted it forever.

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