Race Report: Ironman UK, Sherborne, 20th August 2006.


Just 8 weeks after the Hell in Idaho locally known as Ironman Couer D’Alene I was standing on the start line of another Ironman race. Saying that I was standing at it was not actually correct, I was in fact floating about 50m behind it thinking “why can I not get my goggles on properly?” Well, it was 6am on a Sunday morning who actually thinks much at this time of the day.


I had been relatively disciplined since IM Couer D’Alene. I had followed a sensible diet, trained well and lost a couple of kilos of weight. I was a lean, mean triathlon machine[1] ready to push the opposition aside[2].


The journey to Sherborne in Dorset was uneventful – tedious – but uneventful and I arrived in Friday afternoon after a brief diversion to Southampton to catch up with friends. I was staying with Mike and Gwyneth Sugg who provided me with accommodation during half Ironman UK in 2004 and after a bit of confusion with the organizers of the homestay scheme they did so again. Also staying with Mike and Gwyneth were Ian and Georgina who were competing in their first Ironman. Therefore I felt I could demonstrate great wisdom by handing out tips and advice[3]. Despite having paid to go the pasta party, the prospect of dinner with Mike, Gwyneth, Ian and George seemed like a much better option and a very relaxed evening was spent. With all three of us having registered we felt we could relax before the race briefing on Saturday. The slight concern of the evening was the mention of fog in the weather forecast; this was not good news as this race has been plagued with late starts because of early morning mist[4]. Saturday brought the predictable, slightly patronising race briefing. This was largely attended by everyone who wanted to find out how anyone could wear their timing chip on both ankles at the same time[5]. There were also inconsistencies between the directions and the map of the run course – unfortunately useful issues like this never got addressed. The bike and kit bags were then handed into transition and we were faced only with the challenge of an early evening meal and getting some sleep – the latter being by far the greatest challenge of the day.


Sunday eventually dawned. I had however been up for quite some time before it arrived. In fact by the time the sun rose I had had breakfast with Ian and George; driven to the race; pumped up my bike tires and added some last minute food reserves; changed into my wetsuit and answered the call of nature[6]. Sunrise occurred just before race start at 6; the horn sounded and we were off on time.


The swim was a simple two lap course, it twisted and turned somewhat but was mainly straight out and back twice. The slightly twisty nature of the course required some navigation which worked well for me in the first lap, but not so well on the second. In fact on the second lap it is fair to say it went badly wrong as I at one point crossed the central line of marker buoys and found myself facing the oncoming swimmers. This came as a double shock to me as I was clearly adding extra metres to the already long distance, but it also meant I was actually in front of people. The latter was a serious novelty. However, with some re-adjustment of my course I headed for the swim exit, was helped out of the water and dashed[7] into Transition. I did the usual transition things – changed kit, buggered about and chatted to those around me[8] and then collected my bike.


The bike course was three North-South oriented laps. This was cunningly chosen to avoid the prevailing westerly wind in this part of the Country. Sadly, this was when I encountered the first surprise of the day: a strong south westerly wind. The southward heading side of the loop had competitors cycling into the wind and was undulating with some short sharp climbs and long gentle descents. This meant that where you should have been able to pick up significant speed there was a strong headwind. Additionally the road surface was poor in places and it made for a relatively rough ride[9] with high rolling resistance. The northbound direction involved c. 5 miles of climbing however the slope never really steepened to be truly horrid[10]. On this section of the course the wind was comfortably behind competitors[11]. The downhill sections of this side of the course were steep – up to about 14 degrees in places which led to some fast and scary descents. Each side of the loop was c. 17.5km. The remaining 7 miles or so was made up getting to and from Sherborne Castle.


The first lap was relatively uneventful. The high point, if you will pardon the pun given the hilly nature of the bike course was being lapped by the male professional triathletes at the far end of the second lap near the town of Dorchester. With a burst of activity I attempted to stay with one of the Pros, who was in fact one of my countrymen by the name of Richard Allen. I lasted for about 20 seconds[12]. As I continued the slog up the hill I passed George (who was in another room in the same accommodation as I was) and we took the time to pass a few words. Seeing one of the Pro Men stopped ahead I said jokingly that this would be Richard Allen pulling out of the race[13]. My joke turned out to be prophetic. It was indeed my compatriot pulling out early. George commented as I left her, that as I was looking strong[14], at least one Scot looked likely to finish that day. I pushed on through the remainder of the climb, zipped through the undulating part of the course and headed for lap three. The highpoint of the third lap was chatting to a chap called Simon[15] on the way up the long climb that was great company and was certainly worth 15 minutes by taking my mind of the pain in my legs. Into the last section of the loop and I was feeling good, I was going up hills fast and out of the saddle, and generally feeling surprisingly with it. I had been attentive to my nutrition and hydration and was feeling in good shape physically and mentally for the 26.2 mile run.


The run was a multi lap course. It was a sort of figure of 8. The top part of the ‘8’ was in the grounds of Sherborne Castle, which was done twice and was on pavement, grass and trails.  You then had to run a couple of miles through Sherborne town centre to get to the second part of the run course. The bottom half of the ‘8’ was 2 loops on the A30[16]. Both sections were described as undulating by those whose sense of understatement which was exceeded only by their degree of self delusion, they were in fact hilly[17]. The A30 section of the course was also mind numbingly dull. The real downside of the second section of the run course was that because it was so hilly you could see the long snake of competitors disappearing into the distance.


I came off the bike and out of T2 like a rocket[18] my aim was relatively simple: to run a 10 minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. This would give me a 4hrs 22minute marathon. This would be a PB Ironman Marathon, so when I did 9:59 for the first mile I felt pretty good. I then lurched down to 8:34 for the second mile and then 8:24 for the third mile. Clearly something was wrong. I was getting faster, and mile 2-3 was all uphill. I stormed[19] through the first half of the run course averaging 9 minute miles instead of the planned 10 minute mile pace. My mind was telling me to slow down. I had never done the marathon at the end of an Ironman in sub 4:25 and if I kept doing this the wheels would fall off[20]. I went into the first lap of the A30 section of the run slowing down a touch on the steeper hills, and taking on fuel at aid station by walking the length of them and grabbing Powerbar Energy Drinks, pretzels and coke[21]. One of the Leeds and Bradford Tri club coaches, Simon Ward, shouted out some support about still looking strong and I charged[22] into the last lap of the run. In this section I managed to touch base with a few people from some of the other Yorkshire Tri Clubs (especially from North Yorkshire Police Tri) and Simon who I had chatted to on the bike course. As I crested the last climb at just after the 23 mile mark I realised that I might possibly be on for a sub 12:30 finish and said adieu to Simon and settled into the 8:30-9 minute mile pace that I had managed on occasion throughout the run. I expected to keel over at any moment, but never did. I passed the 25 mile aid station and did not stop. I barely broke step as I snatched some water from one of the volunteers and somehow managed not to drench the poor man in the process[23]. With a little over one mile I suspected there would be energy left to get me going again if I stopped and therefore was determined not to do so. The crowds[24] were cheering as I passed about half a dozen other competitors in the last 0.2 miles and I finished the run in c. 4 hours and 10 minutes[25]. This gave me a personal best of 12 hours and 28 minutes beating my Ironman Austria time by a matter of 3 seconds.


Photos taken I adjourned for some food.


Of the other two competitors staying at Mike and Gwyneth’s: Ian finished in about 10 hours 50 minutes and George in 12 hours 55 minutes. A successful day all around. In total 94% of the field finished and the winning time was about 8 hours and 34 minutes. Overall this was a tough course. The strength of the wind made it even tougher. Tri UK made a reasonably good job of the organization, but on the whole it was not as well organized as other Ironman races I have done. There were inconsistencies between the course directions and the maps and only Tri UK was represented at the Expo. The food after the race was pretty poor, and the food at the awards ‘banquet’ only marginally better. No race certificate was issued which is in contrast with any other Ironman race I have done. In short the event was characterized by a certain amount of penny-pinching. However that did not detract from the attitude of the competitors who had a good day. The people who volunteered to help were as ever (as in any Ironman I have done) fantastic, but I rather had the feeling that the townspeople never really got behind the event as the support on the course was pretty limited. Better weather may have improved this though. However a good day and a return to Sherborne may yet be on the cards – if I can learn to navigate in a lake that is.

[1] A better description would be a “slightly overweight, ill tempered, two-and-a-half-lete, damaged mechanical device”, but lets face it that doesn’t paint the right picture.

[2] Given my subsequent complete failure to navigate during the swim I spent quite a lot of time pushing things aside, e.g. reeds, buoys, other competitors, dry land – you get the drift*

* drift – as in the way I zigzagged around the course.

[3] This of course only works on people who do not know any better. Next thing I’ll be doing is dispensing training hints on running 10k races or giving swimming tips.

[4] Not that it would affect my navigation in the water much; it would just mean that I wouldn’t see the shore before hitting it.

[5] We were specifically cautioned about doing this in the race literature. While conceivably possible during the swim stage it would make cycling interesting, especially there would be difficulty getting a leg over** and of course be a real problem on the run***

** story of my life really….

*** Although on some of the hills on the run courses some folk were taking such short strides that they might as well have had a length of elastic and Velcro fastened around both ankles.

[6] Naturally it was necessary to go twice after putting my wetsuit on.

[7] Well shuffled would be closer to the mark. In my mind I was this sleek, coordinated athlete powering out the water to grab my bike. What spectators reported was a shambling mess that had more in common with the Creature from the Black lagoon.

[8] I could probably shave minutes off my time by focussing on what I was doing, but when you are going to be out there for half a day or longer it seems somewhat churlish not to exchange pleasantries with those around you. And let’s face it, I actually don’t need to shave minutes off my time for respectability, I need to shave hours off to look good, and I am not going to do that in transition – unless I transition to say…a motorcycle.

[9] It also led to occasional cases of vibration-numb finger, vibration-numb toe or for triathletes with insufficient padding in their cycling shorts, vibration-numb…well, never mind.

[10] Well this is truly horrid by Yorkshire standards. There were several competitors from the London based triathlon clubs who were found looking at the hill and wondering what it was.

[11] Doubly so for those who were getting their carbohydrates from an all fruit diet.

[12] This was about 21 seconds more than anyone would have expected – I was obviously having a good day.

[13] Sadly he has a reputation for doing this he has pulled out of the last 3 Ironman races he has entered. In fact he has never made it to the finishers chute in Ironman. I can honestly say that I have never been beaten by Richard Allen in an Ironman.

[14] I presume she meant looking fit and fast rather than suggesting that I smelt bad. Although after 4 hours on the bike I am not so sure.

[15] By curious co-incidence Simon turned out to be a friend of Ian and George’s, which when there was 1100 other people on the course was pretty spooky.

[16] Given that this was a simple out and back part of the run course it would better be described as a lollipop, or is that just me thinking of food again??? Actually by this stage in the course food was high on my agenda, but if anyone had offered me another Powerbar I may just have been violently ill.

[17] In fact by this stage the run course could also be described as mountainous, torturous or possibly simply a crime against humanity****.

**** assuming you consider Ironman competitors sufficiently intelligent to fall into the ‘human’ category. Let’s face it you, you don’t see many chimps+ dumb enough to do this.

+ Quite a lot of chumps though.

[18] That is generating large quantities of hot air. Two litres of high calorie carbohydrate energy drinks were having an undesired effect.

[19] Well, not so much of a storm but a slow moving depression or in the case of one or two other competitors a fairly impressive front.

[20] At least if this happened on the run course it would have been less catastrophic than it would have been on the bike.

[21] The drinking variety not the snorting type++. Although never having been accused of being on drugs of any form in a race, if I was it, would be the recreational variety. No-one would ever believe I had taken performance enhancing drugs.

++Given that the Cola provided was the ultra-cheap ‘bargain’ variety type, snorting it may have been better than drinking it.

[22] Charge – possibly as in “Light Brigade” and possibly given that I had just run another 8:30 minute mile possibly just as disastrous.

[23] In case you think I am departing from reality here it is worth noting that while attempting to drink this cup of water at this pace I managed one small gulp and ended up wearing the remainder.

[24] When I say “crowds” there is serious poetic licence being used. After all this is a race in the UK. This would be better described as 3 people and a terrier.

[25] I would like to say that I was a sleek aerodynamic runner crossing the line. I have seen a photo of me crossing the line and my face was a fixed grimace and it looked as if my arms may have been flailing at my sides instead of a simple up and down motion. This was possibly a vague attempt to get some additional speed in the same way as helicopters get lift.