It was just about a year ago that I decided it would be a challenge to do an Ironman 70.3 after I became 70. The obvious one was Stafford 70.3 as it was to be held the weekend after my birthday. The first obstacle was to get an entry, as I was aware that the event sold out very quickly, but this was achieved in August 2015. Just needed to get the training done with the guidance of Karl.
Training went well until early 2016 when I managed to injure my glutes. Unfortunately didn’t immediately go to see a physio. The prompt to do so was a disastrous trail race, a meeting with Karl the following day led to some timely advice to see a physio and get my act together. I was now on the road to recovery and fortunately during the recovery period I was able to do most of the planned training.
I was very careful to avoid young grandchildren the month before the race as they often seem to have colds only to catch a cold three weeks before the race from Mo, my wife. Took a few days off and then, did two big days, a 3 hr cycle plus 1 hr run the first day, and a 1hr 40 min run the next day, obviously not very sensible as I was laid low again with about 10 days to go. I did manage an easy 1 hr cycle the Sunday before, which was useful as it helped me decide to use a road bike without tri-bars in view of the undulating route and amount of climbing in the race. At my birthday dinner on the Monday before the race I was advised by an ex GP to consider seriously if I should compete on the following Sunday as I didn’t look too well, indeed I had doubts myself right up until the day of the race. The only exercise I did in the week prior to the race was that I rode the bike about 10 miles after having it serviced.
I drove down to race headquarters at Shugborough on Friday with Mo. One of the rather unusual aspects of Stafford 70.3 is that the transitions are a number of miles apart. So on arrival at Shugborough I registered, went to the briefing, and left my T2 bag, fairly easy as it only contained run shoes, hat and gels. Also took opportunity to see layout of T2. Then off to Birmingham to stay with daughter, Sally and family.
On Saturday afternoon drove over to Brownhills in order to rack bike, leave bag with T1 kit in and there was the opportunity to have a swim in Chasewater, the venue for the swim. It was a short bus-ride from the car park with bike and other kit, to Chasewater. T1 was enormous over 2,300 competitors bikes. In view of the weather forecast I included 4 tops so I could make a final choice on Sunday, I also included cycling gloves, shoes, glasses, socks, etc. I racked my bike and then took the opportunity to walk through transition. I also went the start and exit of the swim and inspected the course, 1.2 miles looked to be a long way! I decided not to have a practice swim as I was still a bit concerned about my health.
I rose about 5:00 am Sunday, a cup of tea, a drive to Brownhills, breakfast in the car-park and then the bus to T1. Once at T1 I put my energy drink and bars onto the bike. It was now just before 7:00 at which time the first wave of swimmers, the professional men would start, followed 2 minutes later by the women. The first age groupers started at 7:15 and my start time was 8:25 which gave plenty of time to change, put my clothes into the provided bag which would be transported to Shugborough, and chat to other competitors. Just before 8:25 my wave was called, we self seeded and prepared for the start. It was a rolling start with about 5 entering the water every few seconds. The swim had started, the water was warm, about 19°C, clear and calm, the large buoys were easy to sight. There was a little bit of a scrum to start of but I soon got into a steady pace. Just over 48 minutes later I exited the swim, which was considered by some to be rather longer than 1.2 miles! It had now started to rain!
Into T1 and glad that I had a cycle top and cycling gloves and then out of transition, I must have covered about ¼ of a mile from the swim exit to the cycle mount line. It was a closed road cycle course, with a good amount of support considering the weather. It was described as undulating but with nearly 900 m of climbing it was not easy. Most of the climbs were steady although one short steep climb early on caught many of us out as could be heard from the grating of gears, a chain breaker I thought only to reach the top to see a fellow competitor carrying his chain, I enquired if he needed assistance but he was going to wait for the cycle mechanics. The rain was relentless and I wished that the top I had put on was water, rather than shower proof, 4 tops at transition and I had still not included the right one! This would be a tremendous route in the dry as the scenery is outstanding and the villages are pretty. At about 45 miles the sting in the tail arrived, a climb over about 5 miles to gain about 150 m into the heart of Cannock Chase. But I also knew that it meant a similar descent although I couldn’t take full advantage of it because the roads were so wet and slippery. A final few miles and then just before entering T2 I saw my support team of Mo, my daughter Sally and my granddaughters Maisie and Chloe, how great to see them! I would see them again at various time during the run.
On arriving into T2 I realised I needed to urinate, this took me a bit by surprise as normally, if anything, after the cycle I would be more likely to be de-hydrated. I suspect the reason was that I had made sure that I took on the energy drink but because it was quite cold and wet I had not sweated very much. Now the problem was I had to virtually strip off to pee, as I had a one piece tri-suit on, and then get dressed again. But toilet completed and stripped down to tri-suit I changed into running shoes and hat, collected the 6 gels and started the 3 lap run. My strategy was to walk through each of the 3 feed stations to take on 2 gels per lap and water at each feed station. By the end of the first lap I realised that I didn’t want my hat, one gel per lap was enough and the gels in my back pocket were irritating my back. Just before 2 miles in each of the laps was a quite steep climb to gain about 30 m elevation. Just into the start of the second lap I decided to get rid of 3 gels and leave my hat at one of the feed stations, to be collected on the next lap. Started the final lap and realised I had no gels when I should have had one so used an energy drink from the feed station. It then hit me how tired I was and therefore, somewhat embarrassingly, I would have to walk up the hill. The final 3 miles were a mix of walk and run although I did manage a sprint, of sorts, for the final 100 m. The support throughout the run was tremendous, particularly at the bottom of the hill in the village of Little Haywood, children high fiving, music, cheer leaders and lots of noise!!
At the finish I received my medal and finishers tee shirt and had something to eat and drink.
Then to collect 3 bags, T1, T2 and street clothes and bike now all at Shugborough, which worked perfectly.
So, final thoughts. I really enjoyed the whole experience. The event was brilliantly organised particularly considering the split transitions. The location was excellent. Plenty of buses when required by me. I couldn’t find fault with the organisation. Lots of support throughout the event. The weather was disappointing, particularly the continual rain during the cycle.
I was really pleased to complete, particularly in view of my illness in the preceding 3 weeks. Would like to have completed in sub 7 hours and somewhat embarrassed about about having to walk in the final lap of the run. However, I did finish and I qualified for a place in the World Ironman 70.3 championships, which I decided not to take up. I must thank Mo for her support and encouragement throughout the year while I was preparing for the event. Last, but certainly not least, thanks go to Karl for coaching me. He has always been there to offer excellent advice and motivate me when things were not going too well.