Why I am writing this report when I enjoy writing slightly less than severe toothache as it reminds me of school? Well a) I found Richie and Chops’ ironman reports interesting, useful and inspiring and b) I’m a complete goldfish with a memory span of a few moments this will give me a record of what happened.
In October 2014, at the end of my first season of Triathloning I’d seen a load of red M’s tattooed on calves at the Huntsman Triathlon, my first Olympic distance and a really tough course. I’d only just managed to complete it and was a proper mess at the end whereas the members of this ‘club’ seemed to make it look easy. On returning home I went online to find out about this ‘club’ and having done so I had to join that club and get that ‘Tatt’. I’d read that an ironman was something to be built up to I signed up for Challenge Weymouth Half in Oct 2015 and set a goal of completing the full distance before my 45th birthday in Oct 16.
Having committed to this goal I sought out Tri Surrey to get some specific chat Tri coaching & training alongside the daily strength and conditioning training I was getting from Dynamo Boxing Club.
I completed Challenge Weymouth Half in a really pleasing time but was in a whole world of pain. I needed Aymsley’s help in the finishing area, which included him holding me up then pretty much feeding me the post race pasta. I was ruined…. my family kept telling me how bad I looked, worse than after anything I’d done before. I’d trained really hard and was that rough at the end of a half; the idea of a full distance now scared the **** out of me.
The next month I travelled to watch Matt complete Ironman Barcelona. The trip confirmed I had every reason to be scared but at the same time completely inspired me. For 14 hours I watched mesmerised as 3,000 people went through in a lot of cases (Matt included) ‘utter hell’ to run down that carpet and hear their name followed by those infamous words “you are an ironman”. Thankfully more inspired than scared, I got home and immediately signed up for IM Weymouth in Sept 16. So its all Matt’s fault, a fact I’ve constantly reminded him of since.
I trained hard through the autumn and winter with Adam, the head PT at Dynamo Gym working on my core strength and addressing my historic weaknesses of a reconstructed right knee and lower back pain. This work started to bear significant fruit as I could train for longer and harder, particularly on the bike, without getting the pain I’d previously always suffered. The Maison De Velo Apex bike fit was also priceless as it removed any remaining cycling knee pain; if you haven’t had a proper bike fit its so worth the money.
Tony, Matt and the rest of the gang made sure I was out on the bike during the wet (always with Tony) and often miserable winter months and I started to improve. I’d never enjoyed cycling, never feeling confident, strong or generally happy on a bike. Matt had told me I would need to spend whatever time was necessary on he bike to get to a point where I enjoyed cycling otherwise it was going to be one hell of a miserable journey. As such every time I could get out on the bike I would.
My running was feeling much stronger due to my improved core strength plus the enhanced leg stamina from the miles spent on the bike. In early March I ran the Thames Meander marathon with Lucinda Bayliss (aka ‘Looney’) who was doing the full Outlaw event in mid July. This marathon gave me a lot of confidence in my strength and fitness but more importantly a training partner for the next 4 months. As well as accompanying me (dragging me round) on lots of long rides Lucinda also helped me out massively with my swimming, by making a number of simple changes to what I was doing and also planning out weekly training sessions for me to work on. Thanks loads Looney.
Once signed up I purchased ‘Going Long’ which had been recommended to me by a multi ironman friend of a friend, particularly for its nutritional information. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you’re going to do a full distance triathlon buy and read it if possible before you start training for it. It never left me and will be my reference guide for the future; once you’ve read it you’ll get what I’m saying. It is an all encompassing ‘map’ for an ironman journey giving details of things how to structure the different stages of training (based, build etc), specific exercises for the 3 disciplines, brilliant nutrition information and race day preparation and planning.
I structured a food plan to fuel and recover properly from the ever-increasing number and intensity of training sessions and it worked. I lost fat not muscle and felt ‘fuelled’ for training sessions. Yes I was knackered sometimes and yes I conked out on a few tough rides but these were very few and far between bearing in mind how much I was doing and the effort going into each session.
In early spring Adam incorporated more tri specific work including hours of interval spin, spin BRIC and rowing, spin, cross trainer hour-long sessions. He is great at adapting sessions to keep things fresh and also at conditioning a strong mental attitude towards physical challenges, the value of which cannot be understated on an ironman ‘journey’. Being a retired marine who served in a number of conflicts overseas he knows more than most about this subject. I have total respect for and trust in him built over 6 years of him training me every weekday. Without him I’d still be drinking, smoking and weighing far too much, with a knackered knee and back, talking about how fit I’ll be soon….FACT.
I was training a lot and feeling strong and fit but concerned I was hammering out session after session and with 5 months until the event I was almost guaranteeing I’d end up over-trained or injured. As such I sought out an ironman training plan that I transferred to a spreadsheet format and followed religiously for the next 20 weeks (if anyone wants the spreadsheet let me know and I’ll email it to you). I was now training as smart and I was hard.
As spring sprung, I achieved a marathon PB in Brighton and completed a number of long hilly ride events including May Mash up and King of the Downs. These gave me a lot more cycling confidence meaning as the weather improved so did my enjoyment of being on the bike.
The triathlon season began with an Olympic distance PB at Ardingly, which I subsequently broke at Thorpe Park in early July. In between I got a big PB at the Bustinskin Half in Weymouth of 5hrs 23mins with all 3 elements far better than expected giving me confidence that the training I was doing was right. As I felt stronger and fitter my confidence grew and times improved, which fuelled my desire to train harder and further improve.
In July came Les Stables, which provided a very welcome change of environment, training schedule and intensity. It was a great week, the training, the environment and the people. They don’t overload you with detail but instead work on basic improvements that will have maximum effect on performance. It’s perfectly timed for a late season ironman.
I returned from France fresh and invigorated for the final two months of training and keen to try out the new techniques I’d learnt. In early August I swam the Bewl 3.8km OWS and followed it the day after with their Olympic Tri event and felt really strong at the end even though I’d pushed really hard.
The rest of August was a blur of long hard training hours and a lovely family holiday during which the hard training continued….well the plan it had to! Whenever possible I’d run off the bike, my staple session on a Saturday being a 50 mile ride followed by an 8 mile run. One of the beauties of being part of a such a great club is that there is always someone to ask when you need advice or have doubts about what you’re dong. Matt had to suffer regular questioning (he deserved it, as it was all his fault). One of the useful bits of advice he gave me, as opposed to abuse, was to do as much BRIC training I could. As such whenever I could I’d run off the bike, even if the run was just 20-30mins. In the time restricted cases I’d just run harder to make the run valuable.
In the last 2 months I trained with the nutrition drink and bars that were going to be on the course in the event, which I’d highly recommend. ‘Going Long’ keeps on about the need to eat and drink regularly on the bike to fuel not only the bike but also the marathon to follow. I generally hate eating when I’m exercising so had to learn to force myself to eat on the bike.
Before I knew it September was here which meant tapering. I hate not training hard and every day and as such I have to force myself to taper. This is where I had to trust in the plan and do as the ‘Going Long’ book instructed. As everything had been going so well to date following them both I’d have been more stupid than usual not to do the same with tapering. I tapered pretty much to the plan with my daily visits to Dynamo (required to keep me sane) often being simple stretch and light spin sessions with the last session coming on the 8th September.
I recorded most sessions on my Garmin from January to 8th September both what I’d done and when I’d felt particularly bad or good so that I would have a record of it for future events. By the end it certainly felt like I’d done enough despite the predictable doubts and when I added it up after the event (why didn’t I do it before it to help remove any doubts? I’m so thick!) it totalled in excess of 600 hours over those 8 months.
I’ve purposely given lots of detail about the ‘journey’ leading to the event. The reasons are two fold. Firstly some of it may be useful for others taking on their first ironman. Secondly that was the real Ironman challenge more than the event itself which yes is very tough but is a single day event that you should be fit enough to do if you’ve put in the graft in the months leading up to it. Managing to complete months of significantly increased hours of training, whilst keeping fit and healthy and trying to do it all around normal life without ending up divorced or sacked. That is what I will look back upon with the most pride.
Training complete, bike fully checked over by North Downs cycles (including putting on the highest level puncture protect tyres I could find – I don’t do puntures) we packed the car and headed for Weymouth on the Friday morning.
I can’t recommend highly enough getting to the venue, registering and attending the race briefing on the Friday before a Sunday event. It leaves Friday evening to sort out the various kit bags and stickers etc so that on Saturday all you need to do is rack your bike then put your feet up.
I spent time on Saturday reading elements of ‘Going Long’s’ race day chapter especially the pacing sections, which were invaluable. The main points I particularly took note of were:
- Don’t ‘race’ at anytime in the first 5 hours of the event – if you are you’re going too hard too early and need to ease off or you risk blowing up later.
- Steady pace with a high cadence at the start of the run and work your way gradually into it “
- Enjoy going past people in the 2nd half of both the bike and particularly the marathon because you’ve paced it right.
- Don’t try anything new – particularly important to remember when visiting the expo, which has all sorts of things you didn’t know you needed!
On Saturday I met up with Rupert to rack the bikes and we sat and had a chat looking out over the swim course. This was great as no-one else knows what is going on in your head at that point other than other competitors so to chat with ‘Roop’ who was so chilled and just excited about the whole thing was perfect.
I also met up with Adam, who had travelled down with his family to be at the event, to have a quick chat and he left me feeling relaxed and like I could take on the world.
I went to bed at 9pm feeling very calm and ready to get on with the doing. I had my pacing and nutrition plans, felt very strong and fresh, the only thing tired was my gob from talking about it. I just wanted it to get on with it!
I woke up on Sunday at 4:45am having slept really well with just a few butterflies but more excited than nervous. This is one of the big benefits of knowing you’ve trained properly. If you’ve put in the graft you’ve done all you can to the point you start. Then it’s down to how you feel on the day, how you execute your pacing and nutrition plans and luck that nothing goes wrong.
My overriding objective was to do my amazing family and friends, who’d given me so much support and encouragement for so many months, proud. They’d said the time it took didn’t matter as long as I completed it. For me as long as the time began with 12hrs I’d be satisfied I’d achieved my objective.
I wandered into transition, put 2 bottles and a bag full of food on the bike, checked my tyres (because everyone else was) and stood around for a while just looking at other people looking at other people to see what they were not doing that someone else was. I put my wetsuit on, dropped of my post race bag, and meandered up towards the swim start meeting Roop and Adam on route.
Roop and I agreed we’d seed ourselves in the 1hr 20 / 30 ish min section of the rolling start. The rolling start brings about a far calmer start to the swim and as such hugely improves the overall experience for less capable swimmers. The countdown finished with the starting horn and 20 mins later Roop and I wandered under the huge black inflatable start arch, shook hands, wished each other good luck and slowly moseyed off into the water…….very similar to a Sunday morning at Mercers! Talking of Mercers, I’d swum in rougher conditions there than the sea that morning.
There was very little traffic due to the rolling start and I had decided to start a little left of most even if it meant going a slightly longer route around (I ended up doing 4,023 metres in total). On the first lap even with the 1800 half distance competitors in the water it never felt busy and so with the conditions as still as they were I was able to quickly settle into a nice relaxed rhythm.
The first lap seemed to fly by and before I knew it I was out of the sea jogging 20 metres along the beach and back into the water for the second lap. I’d glanced at my watch, which showed 35mins; I was amazed at and gave me a massive buzz, I was absolutely lovin’ this. Like many reading this will have experienced Triathlons have a habit of slapping you down.
As I started the 2nd lap I thought having 2/3rds of the field out of the way, with the half distance competitors off on their bike leg, would leave the course clear so I headed out on a more direct route to the first buoy. Clearly everyone else had the same idea as the immediate area around me became really congested and with the bright morning sun directly at eye level sighting became almost impossible. Cue 100 metres or so of being hit, kicked, blinded and loss of the lovely rhythm I’d had on the first lap. I needed to get out of the immediate area and quickly. Remembering all the coaching from Lucinda and Ken, I started to concentrate on catching as far out as possible then using everything I had to push the water right out the back along with some ‘windmill’ cadence! After a few minutes I’d managed to get in front of the pack into clear water and proceeded to move around the buoy so the sun and traffic were now behind me. I relaxed and settled back into a nice rhythm.
The rest of the swim was really calm with the final 700 metres in towards the huge yellow Powerbar swim exit arch the happiest I’ve ever felt swimming, especially knowing I was going to get in below my 1hr 30mins target.
I took my time getting out of the water and up under the swim arch checking my watch to see 1hr 15mins, I was so happy chuffed. I jogged through the crowds up towards transition and saw my close mate Ben and his wife screaming encouragement then my wife Jo and my sister going crazy, all of which just added to my euphoric mood.
Target No.1: A sub 1hr 30mins swim – achieved.
Swim Leg: 1hr 15mins
Total Time: 1hr 15mins
Overall position: 313 Age Group Rank 58
In summary I took my time………no I REALLY took my time! I had decided beforehand that I would spend the time necessary to get comfortable in specific cycle gear for the ride and I’d definitely repeat this as it made a huge difference.
T1: 10.04 mins
It’s a tough bike course. A two lap 2,000 metres of climbing course where you get very little back for the long climbs because the descents are sharp and fast and as such it feels like it’s never long before you’re climbing again. I’d ridden the lap on four occasions in training, twice as single laps and once as a double lap and each time managed just over a 6½hr pace. As such I’d targeted 6½ hrs on the basis I’d have done the swim and needed my legs to be at least half okay for the run.
I followed ‘Going Long’’s pacing guide: “the 1st 30 miles should be very easy” so I settled into the ride and concentrated on eating and drinking as I’d planned. Because I’m sad I had calculated what nutrition would give me the carbs I needed each hour to match what I would likely burn and had this on a card attached to the bike bag listing what and when to eat and set an alarm on my Garmin for every 30 minutes to remind me to eat. Yep, proper sad, but it worked.
The 30-60 mile section was pretty relaxed and uneventful bar passing the halfway point in about 3hrs 10mins.
Quite early in the 2nd lap I saw Roop on the 2 mile out and back section as I was exiting it and he was riding into it. He looked like he was having the time of his life not doing an ultra endurance event; some people are so annoying! It was great to see him looking so well and it also ignited my competitive nature, I pushed on.
The 60-90 mile section is referred in the book as the ‘meat of the ride’ during which things get tougher as its time to push on. I’d been looking forward to it because I had gone pretty steady up until then and was eager to ‘crack on’. My average pace was best during this section and although it was tougher I was loving it. The weather was great, scenery was stunning and I felt pretty good and having checked the watch with 22 miles left I was looking on for a 6h15m ish bike split. Perfect I thought……then came my second ‘slap’ of the day.
With roughly 20 miles to go I was travelling towards a 90 degree left turn, which I was well aware of and as such had slowed right down. The marshalls at the junction had stopped a transit van behind them facing up the road towards me which then proceeded to turn right into the closed road, which I’d be turning left into in about 50 metres. The left carriageways of all the roads on the route were closed so I assumed the van driver had got the hump and decided to go up the road anyway. Behind the van was a red mini that had also been stopped the marshalls were now speaking to the driver. As I turned left I saw the mini start to move, turning right into the same road and immediately drive from the right side she’d driven into over to the left where I was – she hadn’t see me at all. Because I’d watched her all the way, because she hadn’t had time to get up much speed and because it was a mini I was able to as she hit me, kind of jump with the bike still clipped in and bury my right elbow so hard and loudly into the bonnet that she immediately reacted by straightening up and emergency stopping. I slid down the front left side of the bonnet landing on my side in the tiny gap left between the mini and a garden wall. As I got up the woman had started to get out screaming “sorry” and “are you okay” etc and a marshall ran round to check if I was okay. I got up and then went through the most worrying set of checks I’ve ever completed. Firstly were my legs and hip okay yep seemed to be, phew. I then picked up my bike and without thinking about whether it may be damaged got back on the bike and started to peddle. Then it hit me, are the peddles and wheels going round okay and with no abnormal noises? Yes. Thank goodness. I then timidly went to change gear and yep it worked fine and finally I changed the front cog and get in there, it changed fine. I cannot describe the relief at that moment.
Heading off up the road trying to make sense of what had just happened the mini drove up next to me, on the right hand side of the road with her window down looking at me, not at the road, trying to say how sorry she was. I’m not proud of it, but oh my dayz did she get properly told to ‘go away’. Accidents happen, she didn’t mean it and I’m sure she was sorry but she was another accident waiting to happen any minute and I didn’t want to be anywhere near her when it did!
That ‘slap’ reminded me that nothing was guaranteed yet. I rode the remaining miles cautiously no longer caring about the bike leg time; I simply wanted to get off in a condition to complete the run and achieve the overall goal. The time it took now felt pretty irrelevant.
I rolled down the final hill, past my mum’s road and my wonderful family who created a wall of noise all on their own, and a few turns later I was on the short road to the safety of transition.
As I turned into T2 I heard an almighty female yell/scream of “Go Tri Surrey” followed by a similarly loud male(ish) voice shout “Go on Weeksy”. There hanging over the barriers were Gail and Matt resplendent in their pink TS kit. They had travelled all the way down from the Vitruvian festivities in Leicester with raging hangovers. It gave me a massive boost, especially knowing they’d been bang on the qwoff with everyone the night before, were a 3+ hour car journey away in the opposite direction to home and the easy thing to do would have been to not bother. Top mates – thanks a million.
The bike leg was over thank ____ and spookily exactly to the minute I’d targeted… how does that ever happen over a 112 mile ride?!
Bike Leg: 6hr 30mins
Total Time: 7hrs 55mins
Overall position: 288 Age Group Rank 55
Similar to T1, my main objective was to get as comfortable as possible for the next leg. Cue another full wardrobe change into running shorts and running top.
T2: 6.50 mins
Leaving T2 I knew a 4hr marathon would probably break 12 hours but I wasn’t expecting to achieve this having only run one sub 4hr marathon before. Based on how I felt though I was hoping to get quite close and unless something went horribly wrong I would end up well inside any finishing time I’d expected at the start. As such there was no need to rush anything.
Starting off I felt strong both cardio and leg wise but my lower back was very stiff and sore. This is where all the regular long BRIC training and the half distance events helped because it had happen on numerous occasions before so I knew what would likely happen. If I just concentrated on keeping a steady relaxed pace after 30-60 minutes the pain should ease as the running muscles warmed up and my body got used to being upright again.
Luckily within an hour I was running pain free and as such able to keep to a pretty consistent pace that although I new would be tough to maintain right to the end, felt comfortable. I managed to sustain the pace and a pretty happy state until about 20 miles. At that point things started to tighten up and hurt acutely around both lower quads and knees.
I’d been using a feed station strategy Paul Mwanza had told me about which was; walk quickly through each feed station, drink a coke, then a water then throw another water over your head to cool you down and eat food before you need it. This had served me well but I probably hadn’t eaten enough, just the odd half banana and the leg pain intensified when I slowed and walked through the feed stations. As such I changed strategy to jogging through them, drinking two cups of isotonic drink at every station and half a banana at roughly every other one hoping it would improve things a bit or at least stop them getting that bad I’d have to slow right down.
Luckily the change quickly improved my condition with the tightening easing to manageable and my energy levels picking up.
As the focus moved away from my legs a bit I managed to roughly calculate what my pace needed to be to break 12 hours, about 9.30 minute miles. I decided to do everything to try and keep under 9 minute mile pace for as long as I could which I managed up until mile 24 then went 5 and 9 seconds above it for the final two miles.
During the run I kept seeing Roop in the unmistakeable TS Trisuit. He’s not running’s biggest fan, especially long distance and was clearly in the hurt locker much of the time but he continued to move forward with a big smile on his face and a wave or thumbs up, which gave me a buzz every time. He is a brilliant example of how to be as competitive as you can whilst never forgetting to enjoy yourself.
I also saw Brad on the run who’d smashed the swim and bike compared to me and was doing well on the run especially considering he’d not run a marathon before. He gave me a great shout of encouragement, which was much appreciated. Such a great club.
On the run I had such amazing support from my crazy noisy wonderful family including my wife, 3 daughters, my mum and her husband, my sister and niece. There was Ben and his wife Sharon who were engrossed in selflessly supporting everyone so much so that people came up to them after they’d finished to thank them for their fantastic support. Matt and Gail now in a zombie like tired state non-stop cheering and they still had to get them home that night. Adam, with his partner Debs and their 2 very young daughters, who had been on the course since 6:30am and who had to drive home that night so he could be in the gym at 6am Monday morning.
It was hugely humbling and motivating to have so many people putting themselves out so much to support me. It meant the world and, along with crossing the line itself and the training to achieve it, this will always be my abiding memory of the day. Thank you to all.
I looked at my watch as I now very slowly navigated the last ½ km around the back of the pier and finishing area and knew I’d break 12 hours, I can’t explain how happy I felt. Jogging round onto the famous red IM carpet, seeing and hearing all my wonderful supporters going crazy (which now included my oldest mate who arrived literally as I finished), with the clock above the finishing line showing 11hr 52mins 14secs and hearing the commentator say “Paul Weeks, you are an Ironman” as I passed underneath it was the most ridiculously amazing feeling ever and by far the best sporting moment of my life.
Run Leg: 3hr 49mins
Total Time: 11hrs 52mins
Overall position: 173 Age Group Rank 31
After getting my now most prized medal and a ton of hugs from everyone I moved VERY slowly to the post race area, ate a tonne of Dominoes pizza and cake and with a few coffees came back to life a bit. I returned to the course to cheer Roop on and had the pleasure of watching him majestically receive his “you are an ironman” moment, which was brilliant. After congratulating him and saying goodbye I went off with the others to find more crap food to eat and collect my bike. Very shortly after I’d collapsed in bed in bits physically and emotionally but one happy happy man.
Three weeks since Weymouth I’ve had time to reflect on my Ironman journey. My overriding feeling is of what an amazing journey it was, all the training and the event itself and its 100% one I will repeat but I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that I need to have a year gap!
There are lots of things I’ve learnt during my journey and views I’ve had confirmed or dispelled. Here are a few tips for other first timers:
– It’s a tough and time consuming journey so make sure you’ve got everyone’s support you’ll need beforehand (particularly family, friends and work colleagues) and understand the commitment required to do it to the best of your ability
– Use recommended reading material and other peoples knowledge and experience then fit what suits you into your world
– Training hard and to a plan allowed me to enjoy actually doing the event and to do it quicker than I’d hoped meaning I’m looking back at it 100% with pride and satisfaction and without any ‘what if I’d done more’ regretfully thoughts
– You’ll need to Rule 5 (or 20) yourself at some point, its a matter of when not if, so its worth get used to having to do so during your training
– Try and get a few friends to train with who are of a similar or if possible slightly better standard than you to keep you company and push you……..and get an Adam if you can!
– If possible do it with someone else. Having Roop there before, during and after to chat made a big difference.
– At no point during the event forget that you ain’t done jack until you’ve actually crossed that finish line. Focus on the moment you’re in don’t look too far ahead; remember ‘the slaps’
– Take it all in as you’re doing it especially if its your first and/or only likely ironman. Whatever happens in the future I’ll have the memories to recall fondly and with great pride.
– I will relax a bit more next time, still train as hard but not let it consume every waking hour as it did particularly in the last 5-6 months. It doesn’t need to if you follow the training plan and don’t cut corners – trust the training!
Thanks again to everyone for all the amazing support and messages.