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IM Staffs 70.3 Race Report - Athlete feature

Grab a coffee and settle in for a great read from Howard, detailing his experience at IM Staffordshire 70.3...

The Swim

Trying to get my bag into the white bag caused problems, meaning I made it to the pens after they had already started shuffling forwards so I have no idea where I was seeded in the end. Hit the water and pulled hard. cleared the other entries from the group and was into the next group by the first turn buoy.

Loads of space but very little draft possibilities. Fairly straight lines I think, as I did not look up to sight and ever not be able to see the target buoys. First time I have swum this type of seeded start so not sure if there is normally that much space to swim in? When I did find people to the front to draft from I was past them in no time at all. Looking back and thinking about people I came across on the bike I do wonder if people who are a lot slower seed them selves in quick groups to have more space to swim and bike in when they get dropped, or more chance to draft off of others on the swim, or simply just more time available before the roads are closed and therefore a greater chance of finishing...

I saw Jesus between turn buoys 1 and 2.. I looked right to breath and saw someone walking on the water. .. I was totally confused for a few seconds before Sam's voice popped in there and reminded me about the sand bank, then it all made sense.

Got to Turn 2 eventually as for a bit it seemed to be always the same distance off, but then it was a lot longer than I am normally used to swimming and sighting . Buoy 2 was simple as the first with no one wanting to get near the buoys.. Then it was a swim for the last turn. I had the sun in my eyes a bit now so sighting was problematic, but I kept the course fairly well and was onto the final buoy and into the exit. Still pulling good, still controlling the breathing and the rhythm .

At 100m remembered to kick hard and get the blood to my legs, then started a quick transition in my head and the important things to remember like my route to bag rack and route to bike. Swam to knee depth then stood up to avoid sliding and hobbling around on the concrete ramp. Out onto the carpet and at the top of the ramp hit the button on the garmin to start T1.

The Bike

Off of the dam road and past some slower bikes before the main road. Out onto the fast road, I know how the next few kms is going to go on the bike as I have it still fresh in my mind and I know what the route is like all the way to the halfway point at the hairpin bend near the comms tower where Sam will be. I did not know at this point that that part of the route was actually a good 60 km + into the course! Bonus, I knew more than I thought in the end...

Tried to settle into the bike, but was struggling a little to keep to the power profile as the 10sec avg was a little too delayed, and I had previously found the 3sec avg to be changing to often. Having more than the target power and one other power ( plus overall bike time) clutters up the 520 screen too much to make them easily readable. More practice I think..

I was fighting my normal race default mode for the first few km which is sprint mode and does not really involve a long bike leg so conserving matches is less important (in my head). By the climb where we ended the ride the day before I had negotiated with the devil inside and talked it out of going silly and reminded myself there were many more miles to go.

Got through the twisty technical first section with no real problems. Had small ring in time for the 15% to take it easily and then push over the rise with no need to mess with gears other than one change on the cassette at mid point.

Real grateful for the heads up from Coach Sam on that one. The rest of the section was all about passing where I could and knew where the road was going. Only one slight moment with a left handed bend which I over cooked a little and locked up the back wheel a second causing a skid and a slight fish tail. releasing and dabbing back onto the brakes regained control and I was out of the corner again and away. Made the 515 with all my onboard bits. Then it was onto settling in and looking to try to keep the plan.

The first hour was okay but then the fatigue started to remind me to pace myself and that there was a run to do. I also started working out how to pee because I needed to go now. Over the remainder of the bike leg I tried to stick to the power on the climbs but it was getting harder and it was either under powered or over powered as I made the effort to raise the power and pushed it too far. Indeed by the last 15km where the 300+ watt efforts were required I was not able to deliver that at that stage of the bike leg. I was eating and taking on gels as my plan dictated.

I don't think I drunk enough as I ended with way too much liquid in the bottle. I think I will remove the bite valve as it makes drinking an effort and not a quick affair. I also need to dilute it a little more as at times it was a little to strong for my desire at that moment.

By feed station 2 we had a TT pack going. This pretty much stayed until we were into the climb through Cannock chase with the opposing return course on the other side of the road. By the dangerous bend we had split and for my part I concentrated on the power plan for the climb and ignored what others were doing. Conserving the power as per the plan on the climb meant on the decent after the hairpin all the way back down I could gain some time and was able to follow another faster rider using his lines and braking points as rough guide.

Out onto the last part into Stafford from Cannock I tried to keep to power but was failing to hit the bigger numbers and was beginning to worry about having the energy and endurance in the legs to run. so I did not push the power to get to the higher power numbers. Maybe keeping to the numbers earlier would have helped later in the bike and on the run. Still pacing people and still being passed by others occasionally. Left knee beginning to hurt a little by the time we were in the last quarter of the course. Helmet was okay, and visor did not mist. Into T2 with a dismount bang on the spot.

The Run

Good pace and feeling on the first km or so, settled into a pace around 5'/km then dropped it to 4:20/km by river side path. Forced myself to slow by the time we came up and over foot bridge and into the commercial areas, to 4:45/km roughly.

The chop and change of the winding town centre streets caused an erratic HR and difficult to settle into a rhythm. By the time I was at the first crossing of the hump back bridge I was feeling it in my legs. My knee was not hurting but my calves were tight and my legs very heavy. Climbed up to the hairpin turn by the Red bull sound tank thing with legs feeling worse. At the beginning of the run out to the castle I was noticing a definite inability to maintain the pace. At the foot of the castle entrance I realised we had been climbing since just after the red bull feed zone. I think by the time I was into the steep part of the castle climb I had come to the realisation I was not going to have a 4:45/km avg pace. It had become about conserving what little I had left for the final down hill from the castle to the finish, where I knew I would be able to arrive at the end and did not need to hold back. I was walking the last part of the first castle climb as my HR felt bonkers and PE felt about 12/10.. I was thinking by this point that I was dehydrating and lacking salt so grabbed electrolyte drink on castle feed zone and tried to get it in my mouth. Probably was about 50% successful! Controlled run down to avoid a slip on the mud. Then tried to maintain form down to the return section of the Red bull feed zones. Another few sips of electrolyte here. enough to try to help but conscious of having too much sloshing around my stomach and taking up room my lungs needed. I think I was almost at a jog by now and into survival mode to try to get round lap two and not end at a walk or worse still a crawl.

At the hump back bridge it was a walk up it to control HR. At some point coming back into town centre I saw Emily and gave her a cheer. Kept the same pace and PE around town centre again. Popped in one of my SIS energy gels after the town centre feed zone. Sped up for a moment when I went through the split for the finish straight as mentally I knew it was getting a lot closer. This slowed again going back out of town and the hump back bridge was not a guaranteed walk. Plodded up round the Red bull zone hairpins. Then walked through the red bull feed area to take on electrolytes and a sip or two of water. At the end of the feed zone I grabbed a last cup of water and chucked it over my head. This made me actually feel better. I set myself off up the climb out towards the castle, slow pace now, setting the point I was going to run to without walking then resetting it further each time as I got nearer.

Got to last bit of road before turn in to castle entrance before someone already walking in front and a faster runner passing meant I had to walk. Turned into castle and jogged to feed area on climb. another few sips of electrolyte and water on my head and off to a jog again to the bottom of the steep section. Passed Emily coming in the opposite direction again so more cheering! Back to walking up the last part of the castle entrance. Legs really heavy and burning now. Forced myself, reluctantly to jog around top of castle then the same controlled run down to the feed zone on the exit of the castle entrance. walk, sip all electrolyte cup and another cup of water over head. Jog out of castle and onto decent to town. In my head I know how far is left and how much is gradual decent, meaning free speed. My knee is still okay, just my calves tight and my legs fatigued. I pick up the pace and get a rhythm going, that is sustainable on this section. Actually passing people, probably those on first lap but it makes me feel good. I see myself as one of the pros powering down this same bit of road that I had seen earlier. Silly but it helps me keep the pace. I monitor the distance and having decided the caffeine gel is going in at around 17km for a fast finish I start getting it in at around 17.5km point. Road levels out and into return section of red bull feed zone. Walk for a sip of water and some over my head to cool and get that feel good factor again.

Looking ahead for Emily now as that is my next point I am aiming for. I don't think I will see her again as she has been running down hill while I have walked up to the castle. But it keeps me pushing. Walk the hump back bridge again and then back to a reasonable pace as I try to work out from the watch distance and my knowledge of the course where I will pick up the pace by increments to finish as hard as I possibly can. Into town centre and I see someone stood out from the crowd line, I see Sam's PA gilet and push out a bit more, wanting to give something back for all the time and effort invested in me by him. A high five as I go past and on through the last part. Every bend seems to have another one I had forgotten about and I begin to wonder if I have pushed too early. Then I recognise the road out of town and the turn back to the feed zone so feel better as I know this bit as it is easily recognisable. Then there is Emily. I catch her up and give as best encouragement as I can manage at this stage in events. Then run onto the final feed zone. I resist the urge to repeat my by now habitual walk and drink through the feed zones. Pushing to the steep rise back into the shops. I can feel my HR going mad and end up walking 10 m up this steep short rise. The people I have had in my sights since entering town are still just in front and not going too far ahead so I felt like I was justified in this short check to HR. Over the rise and into the shops I know its not long so the pace picks up dramatically now. Its no longer about survival, its about finishing hard as hell. My legs are starting to scream now but no pain either from the knee. Another few bends I had forgotten about has me dismayed but then I turn and see the corner before the split and push. Flying passed people I had been chasing down I head to the split.

Into the last straight its 100m right.., I think its actually 200m in hind sight, or at least it feels that way! Increasing the pace further and further. When I see the red carpet I slam into maximum effort. Lining up for a high five with the announcer and vaguely hearing what on earth he was going on about. Now its all about trying to make an impressive finish shoot photo! And emptying everything out of the tank. I cross the line and know I have given everything when I can hardly hold onto the water bottle and have to hang on the barrier for a minute or two. Then it's time for a medal! As I said at the time at the finish. A bit dismayed at the run, but I know I gave absolutely everything on the course and had nothing left in the tank. Maybe faster if I had better ability to pace as per the bike power plan. The words of advice about gaining 5mins on the bike to loose 15 mins on the run do keep coming to the front of the mind, but so does the climb out of town to the castle summit, so I really don't know how or if I could have got a faster time overall at the moment.

Thanks for getting me through Sam!

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