I finally did it – completed a Full distance triathlon (aka Ironman) at Challenge Weymouth on the sunny shores of Dorset (UK)! This is my story . . .
My ironman journey started 2 Years ago after completing my first half distance at Challenge Vichy. Going into 2013 my plan was to complete two halfs and a marathon and the doing a full in 2014.
However, 2013 saw an international move from Paris to the UK, a new high stress job with frequent international travel, etc. So my training suffered and I only managed to do one sprint tri (Versailles) and a marathon. Going into 2014, I was able to take my training a bit more serious, but had to contend with the first three months of 2013 in near constant rain and record flooding in the UK. Once spring hit I was really moving up the training volume when it became apparent that our rental house was not going to work out, so we had an unplanned local move that put a dent in my training schedule. Furthermore, a major project I was working on in Indonesia was in trouble and I was traveling there frequently. In fact, I went to Jakarta twice in the three weeks proceeding Challenge Weymouth and returned from the last trip on The Thursday before Sunday’s race!
I’m not complaining or making excuses, but there is the expression of a “time pressed age-grouper” in this sport and I am the epitome of this expression. If you find yourself in this position someday, know that you can manage through it. Do your training when you can, don’t beat yourself up too much for missing a session, and adjust your expectations accordingly. But Never give up!
For the uninformed a Full distance tri is 3.8k swim, 180k bike, followed by a marathon at 42k (2.5, 112, & 26.3 miles). Like all things triathlon, you prepare as best you can, but on Race Day expect the unexpected and do your best to respond.
Race day starts with the swim at 06:40, meaning having to be at transition by 06:00 or thankfully a 05:30 wakeup call as I was staying nearby. However, I woke up at 04:15 due to race day nerves! Who needs sleep anyway.
Arriving to transition with Cindy, who was volunteering in transiton, we were greated with the news that the swim was shortened to the half distance of 1.9k due to the seas. I learned later that as of 05:30 it was to be cancelled, but it calmed somewhat.
I felt a bit cheated of not being able to go the full distance, cheated until I saw the seas. Weymouth is renown for its normally placid waters in a well protected bay from the predominately westerly winds. Today here was an 18mph wind out of the east which turned the bay into a surfers paradise, with 6 to 8 foot swells.
The swim was a beach start, one loop around, back on the beach, and another go. The first wave set off, including the pros, and were quickly carried down the bay in a strong cross current, having to make a dramatic course adjustment against the current to get back on course.
Having learned from that experience my wave moved 150 yards up the beach for our start 10 minutes later. Once in the water it was a fight. First trying to get past the crashing waves, then once in open ocean trying to sight the bouys – only possible on the crest of a wave and IF you were pointed in the right direction. Somehow I managed to keep the bouys close and make it around the first loop. I fully expected to exit the water to news that the swim was over, the second loop cancelled, because it was so rough. In fact there were actually people getting sea sick during the swim. But to my surprise – No – I ran up the beach to the start line and off again.
This time I wasn’t so lucky. I made good time getting to the first bouy, but I sailed past the second (return) bouy being carrried to sea with the strong current. Eventually one of the Kayaks support team got my attention and pointed me home. So at the end of the swim I had covered an extra 500 m of swimming with a total of 52 minutes. It wasn’t a rookie mistake, it was just so difficult to sight. I later learned the pro swim leg finisher can out 150 yards away from the finish on both loops.
Off to the bike – my favorite! Leaving T1 on the bike, wet from the swim and a brisk 11C, I was struggling to find my groove. This was probably not helped by the fact that half of Weymouth Bay was draining from my sinuses.
The bike course is a 2 loop course which has a total of 1800m elevation in 180k – so not exactly mountainous. However, I was soon to discover that most of that elevation came in the first half of the loop. Given the cold, my groin muscles acting up from the washing machine swim, I was a poor excuse for a cyclist for the first 50k and was growing concerned.
About this point, the low point, there was a long climb with a fantastic descent, on an out and back. These two fast and furious decents shaked loose the cobwebs and I was off. It wasn’t long before I discovered the flat and straight second half of the loop and I settled on my bars and ran flat out.
Heading out on the second loop I was conscience of giving my legs a rest to save something for run. However, the 110k feed station ended up to be the last with electroyte drink as they ran out in the other stations, I had packed some salt caps to take in this case, but they had fallen out of my feedbag on the first loop. When I stopped to retrieve them, I got back in time to watch a car run over them! So much for contingency plans.
This became a problem 30k from the finish as my legs started to cramp up. Desperate I asked another cyclist if he had anything with salt. He handed me an oat bar that looked and tasted like a hay bale after having passed through a horse. But it seemed to do the trick and I made it back in 7:06 hrs.
In T2 I was greeted by a smiling Cindy who took my bike after working from 06:00 to 15:30. She was supposed to end her shift at 12:30 but they needed the help and she wanted to see me come into T2 – what better vantage point. Her presence was well appreciated!
So through T2, get my run kit on, stand up and discover that I have massive, clenching cramps in the arches of both feet!!! Pain redefined. So off on the run walking like a Zombie with a hangover to be greeted by the enthusiastic English crowds – Awesome Paul, Well Done Paul . . . while appreciated I wasn’t feeling so awesome.
So when I get to the first food station, its to fill up on electrolytes, crisps, anything with salt. Unfortunately the minute the liquid hits the hay bale I ate earlier it expands to 10x its normal size and shuts down err, umm . . . The plumbing. So now I have foot and stomach cramps to start a marathon on! Needless to say it was a struggle. I ran, walked, sweared, etc, Coming back in from the final loop I hit my stride and finished a a good clip and surprisingly fresh. I felt a bit of a fraud on that last loop with an easy stride, a smile on my face, given what I had just been through on the run.
So it was to the finish. I picked up Cindy at the family gate to go across the line with her, then before I know it there is a bloke named Joe Skipper running alongside to my left. He is the Pro winner and was there cheering on the age groupers, I shook his hands and told him congrats, he said thanks but that this “Was about me mate!”. And THAT is why I love this sport. Not only do you get to compete with the pros, it is the bond borne of the trial whether done in 7:49 hrs like Joe, or 13:32 hours like me, we both met our demons out there and conquered them.
So there you go, my Challenge story. For my Tri friends I highly recommend Challenge Weymouth, full or half, it is well run and it is flat and fast enough for a PB. For those who will do their full for the first time, I can only advise to prepare for post race recovery. I’ve been shocked about how much it has taken out of me in the days that followed.
Cheers and Bon Sport mes amis!