As per the plan, The Forestman Race strategy really started at 3:30pm…..12 hours before wake up. Having spent time with Mark Kleanthous (triathlon author and extreme athlete) www.ironmate.co.uk on a training camp in Lanzarote we learnt that Nutrition was one of the key factors for success.
The day before Ironman should probably be relaxed, feet up, calm, reading, dozing…..reality is it’s a hectic day. First we went for a very short swim, 20 minute spin on the bike and the same short run….following that we registered and picked up race packs and the all important coloured bags followed by race briefing! Then it was time to pack said bags, review, unpack, check, pack, review, unpack, pack…..oh for goodness sake let’s go and rack the bikes!
So having racked, packed, nervous energy was making a 9:30pm bed time very appealing and 6 hours before that we fired up the oven for Tesco’s Finest (and very quick & easy) Beef & Goulash, Chicken Piri Piri and Brown Rice. The plan being the last big meal is 12 hours before breakfast, typically we eat 12 hours before wake up and ideally have a bodily movement(!!) this is one of those days we really want that movement on time!!
Six hours later, even just relaxing, we’re going to burn 100 calories per hour from our 2000 (approx) maximum calorie storage bank of glycogen in the liver and muscles, the bank we’re trying to ensure is full at Race Start time, 5:30AM. So before bed we’re planning on a can of Ambrosia Rice Pudding, a favourite for me and nearly 500 calories in a can….nice and simple.
Family & friends enjoyed beers & BBQ tea at our lodge at Sandy Balls – while me and my race buddy Dave ‘Notso’ Bright put the finishing touches to race prep….
Bed was welcome, I didn’t expect to sleep but I was shattered. Lying in bed I allowed myself to calm and just run through the day that was to come and realised just how prepared I was….while I’d only started Triathlon in April 2013 and 14 months later we were facing the ‘long distance’ I had crammed a lot of training, including two training camps in Lanzarote and France, and you know what, as I ran through the swim, T1, the bike, T2 and the run I felt a fantastic calm, heaviness and fell asleep.
3:00AM – I was straight out of bed….checked on Dave, shower, cup of tea, all important calorific brekkie, movement (yah!!) bag check, good luck kiss from the wife and before we knew it we were walking for the 4:00AM coach.
Brekkie – porridge (300 calories) + 2 croissants (400 calories) + fruit tart pushing 1000 calories…..so having filled the calorie bank at 3:30pm the afternoon before, 12 hours later we would have lost 1200 calories just resting & sleeping, 500 calories rice pudding @ 09:30pm + brekkie meant the glycogen bank should be full. In the next two hours sipping energy drink and an energy bar meant the bank should remain full and the body be well hydrated for what was forecast to be a hot day.
Having made the mistake on a training swim where the bag drop took too long and there was no time for warm up and stretching, it was great to arrive at Ellingham lake, check the bike, leave my helmet, race number belt and gloves on the bike and then put the rest of the contents of the bike kit in the change tent. Wet suit on, I found a quiet spot and gently stretched, sipped energy drink and then saw my support crew at 5:10AM walking down the track….great to see…..
So, here we go then….
We had a final briefing from Race Organiser Richard, I felt a nervous chill and then we were in….and off!
The beauty of Forestman is that there are just 100 competitors compared with IRONMAN branded events with 3000 competitors, I really have no idea why such a beautiful accessible race is so small, but I’m not complaining! So with the blast of the horn we set off, the start line was plenty long enough to mean there was no fight for the first buoy and I was able to find my stroke and someone to draft nice and easily. The water temperature was fab, clear and clean tasting, the sun started to rise and I just felt relieved that we were finally here.
The course was three laps following the perimeter of the lake, for the first two laps I was among others, enjoying a tow and then as I entered lap 3 I found myself in nomansland, the leading group was well ahead but no-one was around me, this wasn’t a problem, it was a beautiful morning and I felt like I literally had the lake to myself! Heading in to the finish was straight into the sun, blinded I somewhat hoped I was heading to the quay, I found the mat and slipped out of the water as my legs struggled to act….”no rush, take it easy” said one of the fantastic marshalls…..I hit LAP on the Garmin and was chuffed to bits to see a time starting with 59 minutes when the target was to break 65 minutes….and then a wall of noise as my support crew welcomed me ashore and then as I ran up the track to the T1 change tent something like 100 other competitors in blue swim hats (presumably the 70.3 competitors) they all clapped me up the path….I felt a million dollars!
T1 was a bit calmer than shorter events, but still I didn’t want to waste the great swim time….so wet suit off….a second pair of padded shorts, socks and shoes and a cycle top with pockets already packed with inner tubes, energy bars etc.. Luckily with the great weather there was no need for arm warmers or jacket, both were in the bag just in case I was feeling cold, as was sun cream which I applied now to my face having been worried to do so before the swim in case it affected the goggle seal. At the bike – helmet + race number belt + gloves and we’re off again up the long track to reach the road and bike mount point.
It’s 6:30AM in the New Forest on crisp sunny June morning…there are worse places to be! As I headed away from the lake I firstly tucked into a Choc Chip Jack Oatbar which I’d decided was the perfect ‘treat’ to start with (along with 260 calories), a good slug of drink and then concentrate over the two cattle grids glistening with morning dew. The first 20km there was always company, no draughting rules apply in triathlon but of course we’ve all come out of the swim, through T1 and hit the roads fairly close together, but it’s amazing how quickly ever so slightly different paces separates us out and before too long I was in my own little world riding through the tranquil forest.
So much of the IM is psychological, interestingly with the way the race starts from the lake, and not the Sandy Balls resort where I had started my training rides I was very quickly a lot further around what I considered a complete loop and as a result felt buoyed and confident. I knew the course, I knew when the road surface would change, where the inclines were and where ‘free’ speed was available, as such I could plan gear shifts, when to sit up, when to tuck and why at some points the speed seemed to drop to a crawl….all a real boost.
Of course having done well on the swim there was always going to be some powerful cyclist catching me and passing by at a rate of knots! IM isn’t a race for most of us though, it’s just a personal battle with the clock against which we know whether we have won or lost.
On the course my support crew of friends and family were split an hour apart which was always a really nice thing to know, that not far away was going to be a roar of cheers and big smiling faces.
On lap 3….finally….from behind came my training buddy Notso, screaming STRAVA, our own little joke!! A few words of encouragement between us and he was off….he didn’t end up that far ahead but he’s certainly quicker than me and I obviously need a longer swim to my advantage!
The last loop was tough but the training was there, I had come to realise the loop was one of two halves the west side was wind behind, rolling and fast, the east side was more hilly, and across the ‘airfield’ was head to wind and energy sapping….so with the east side out of the way I took a look at the watch elapsed time having been focused up until now on average pace hoping to be 28km/hr but seeing it drop in lap 3 to 27s….but the good news was the last 15km was all good, wind behind, smooth, rolling and fast and while remembering the mantra “Remember you are cycling to the start of a Marathon” I had a cracking end to the ride, with a PB actually being recorded on STRAVA for the final leg into Sandy Balls!
Entering Sandy Balls, hitting the dismount line and jogging in felt great! The bike had treated me well….no back, shoulder or neck pain that had plagued me through training and jogging in I felt better than I could have hoped.
Entering the change tent I literally bumped into Dave as he was heading out, bouncing out & flirting with Marshalls as only our ‘Tigger’ could after 180km bike ride!!
Slumped in a chair there was an opportunity to take stock, strip off, change everything try to freshen up cause now the day was really about to begin…
Fresh socks, shoes, top, visor, number belt, gel belt…..toilet stop (oh we needed that) big whoops from the support crew and we headed out to the first of many inclines…the 2km up the road to the start of the trail….oh how the Forestman was going to wipe that smile off my face and batter me!
The run is a brute, you know it, but there’s not much that you can do about it! Just hope that the training that has gone on before wins.
The course is 2km up the road, then another couple of kms of trail (downhill, up, flat, down and up….I remember it well!) to a T section, from here a bike trail that runs from Fritham to Frogham approximately 3 x 11km. The track is sandy, stoney, hilly, in parts exposed….
A picture says a thousand words.
The plan was a Heart Rate sub 140 and a pace 5:42….the pace started ok….the first 10/12 km was ok but then the prospect of doing the loop another two times set in, playing havoc with my mental strength, it became harder and harder, my thighs screamed. Walk 10 secs, run 50 secs….walk the hills, longer and longer aid station stops…..flat coke, crisps, water, high5 energy drink, gels etc etc…
We collected three wrist bands white, red & blue…the last was blue, 5 miles to go….8 km to go. I dared to look at the elapsed time for the first time on the run, I was at something like 11hrs and 30 minutes and as I trudged back up the hill I desperately tried to calculate how long 8kms should take and what time I might end with I couldn’t work it out, but I was sure it would be less than 13 hours – that was my race goal – and that gave me just enough of a boost to head home.
At the middle aid station I saw Brighton friends Amy and Issi…had a bit of joke and a chat about how long 5km could take and I heading off the loop and towards home, down, up, level, big down…..BIG UP to the final aid station, then 2km home, on road, downhill…..agony.
As I headed down the ‘big down’ the valley opened up, the path like a big fat snake lying in the sun and in the distance I saw my two boys running down the ‘BIG UP’ which took my breath away, a huge smile welled up inside, I plodded on. At the bottom I shared big hugs….my elder son had not been there all weekend, he was on his Duke of Edinburgh weekend but my mum had collected him in Sussex and managed to get herself and him down for the finish!
Together we hobbled up the final climb, hugged my mum, enjoyed a strawberry at the aid station, and started the final push.
Every step, despite being so close was so hard, there was no relief, the thighs screamed downhill….and then the finish…..turning in to Sandy Balls and entering a funnel to the line the supporters could see you, everyone, friends and strangers, everyone clapping and willing you home, the mat, the inflated gantry….we were done. Wow.
Great Swim + Good Bike + Horrendous Run ……. on balance I almost had the perfect race….I’d work incredibly hard in my training, I had invested a huge amount in kit, training camps, my family accepted the burden, but above all I invested in coaching – Lee Thomas at Tri-Topia coached me from triathlon virgin in April 2013 through Sprint, Olympic and then Ironman, populating a training programme that pushed and pushed but kept me injury free and delivered a very respectable IM Time. Also to Mark Kleanthous aka Ironmate from whom I learnt so much about nutrition and race planning while in Lanzarote.
The run broke me, but I believe that was geography rather than training.
Again? I feel I was lucky in the 6 month period of intense training where my working life and my family life were in good balance and allowed the training required, already with a member of staff leaving my company my work / life balance is out of kilter and would be affecting training…..sprints, olympics and 70.3’s all look very appealing…..as does long distance swimming…..but never say never….. 😉
Activity Summary:- 06/01/14 – 22/06/14
Swimming: 89 kms (29 hrs 11mins)
Bike: 2467 kms (98 hrs 49 mins) (Indoor Turbo 19 hours)
Running: 766 kms (74 hrs 44mins)