I've started 9 Ironman races. My mum and dad have been to 5 of them and they haven't had much joy. They have been to Bolton 2014 which was a disaster, Tenby 2014 which wasn't bad but wasn't great, Bolton 2015 which was a disaster, and Bolton 2016 which was also a disaster. Weymouth 2016 wasn't quite a disaster, and I'd go as far as to say that although it wasn't quite what I wanted, it wasn't bad. So I was happy that mum and dad were able to witness a decent showing and have a good weekend.
I asked my dad to write a few words about Ironman Weymouth 2016. This he duly did, perhaps with a hint of bias, perhaps with a hint of wearing rose-tinted glasses, perhaps with a hint of naivety, perhaps ever so slightly misinformed, and certainly a little bit factually incorrect and cryptic. I wondered about editing his words to make them correct but then I thought no, leave it as it is, his own words, his own thoughts.
He writes below:
The Dinosaur Ironman
“As in Jurassic coast Weymouth? Bolton, Tenby, yes, but I wasn’t aware of an Ironman in Weymouth.”
“This is the first year Weymouth will host a full Ironman and it will run in conjunction with its usual half Ironman.”
“Will that not cause serious logistical difficulties for the organisers, never mind the practical ones for the athletes?”
“Yes it will, but you just have to deal with them.”
“What about your knee, the one you bashed on the rocks jumping into shallow water in Bolton in July?”
John didn’t answer this one definitively. He was clearly “hedging his bets”. He had been upping his training and his knee was allowing him to do so, for now anyway.
“I’ve checked the flights. You can fly into Bristol and drive south to the coast on the Saturday, returning on the Monday. Brian and I are driving down from London on the Friday. We’ll all have to stay in Poole, it’s impossible to get anywhere in Weymouth at this late stage.”
And so, with this conversation, we were on our way, myself, John’s Dad, and his Mum. John had trained hard for Bolton in July and was in excellent shape. But no matter how meticulous the preparation and planning the “fly in the ointment” can occur at any time. In Bolton it proved to be a shallow, rocky area of water on the right hand side of the entry zone into Pennington Flash. A dozen or so athletes were injured here, to varying degrees. For John, his injury didn’t manifest itself acutely until he began the run. Bitterly disappointed and justifiably critical of the organization at the start of the swim, he had to pull out.
We suspected that Bolton may have been his last Ironman. Wanting to finish on a “high”, we knew also that he would give Weymouth his all and we were keen to support him. Besides, this would be a hat-trick of ironman supports for us – Bolton, Tenby and Weymouth.
Not having been to the south coast before, I was looking forward to the drive through rural England. I needn’t have bothered. The roads required our full attention; high, unkept hedges severely restricted views; a drive if seventy miles via Wells, Yeovil and Dorchester took almost three hours, twice as long as a similar drive here. So I admire the patience and determination of the thousands of athletes who travel to such events throughout the year in England.
At last the horizon of the Channel came into view, atop a clear blue sea, as we dropped down into Weymouth. It was now about 1.00pm. The weather had transformed from a drizzly, overcast morning to a bright, cloudless sky, the temperature tempered by a refreshing sea breeze. And so it was for Sunday.
We met John and Brian for a late breakfast. Having already reconnoitred the locality, John was happy, pleased with the flat circular run course and delighted with the weather conditions.
“Hydration on the run will be key,” he commented.
Finding a margin of advantage in the location of racking your bike is like expecting clear water amidst thousands in the swim. No letters or numbers grid to guide the athletes; it is down to memory and homing instincts. For those who are competing rather than participating, smooth, efficient transitions are critical.
With the bike racked and gear in place, John was keen to become more familiar with the elements of the course. He and Brian had already driven a significant part of the bike course, a two-lap course, and on our way back to Poole, he and I would check out the first fifteen to twenty miles of the course. First it was down to the promenade, a beautiful expanse of coast, curving in a shallow arch of about six miles to the east and to the west, and flat, flat as a pancake. Bolton and Tenby are brutal courses to run, but Weymouth would give John the opportunity to really perform, and he knew it.
Fuelled on his pasta diet, John had an early start from Poole on Sunday morning. We had parked the cars, John had checked his bike and gear by 5.30am. And then the “fly in the ointment” struck – the call of nature. On a cold, dark September morning the last thing he needed was to stand in a queue for forty minutes. This meant a rushed and less than satisfactory preparation for the swim.
We needn’t have worried. John emerged on the first circuit in twenty eight minutes and was quickly consumed by the masses on his second. As the rising sun slowly generated a little heat, he completed the swim in fifty nine minutes and passed us going out on the bike looking strong and focused.
“Pace not race”, is a term we have frequently heard in the presence of Ironmen and as John disappeared down the long, straight road out of Weymouth and into the hilly, testing roads of Dorset this would have been uppermost in his mind. No matter how well an athlete is going, there is an iron will of discipline required to stick to pace. John had his split times, distance markers and transition times finely calculated to plus or minus ten minutes. Given this was a novel venue and difficult to compare markers with other courses, his accuracy was quite remarkable.
Having experienced the charm of the old town of Weymouth while John gyrated around Dorset, we returned to the long, straight road down which John should appear within his margin of plus or minus ten minutes. As an élite athlete, he was at the front of the pack. We counted the professionals past us. He shouldn’t be long following.
“That’s him”, Eileen shouted in anticipation as the sole figure on the bike loomed increasingly large. His Mum could recognise his frame, his build, his style and of course his colours.
“Right on time,” she added.
The sun was hot now, the day bright and the breeze had lightened. The athletes doing the half Ironman were now populating the promenade run. With the full Ironman athletes joining them, it was going to be very populated. Hydration and pacing were now critical and looking at the great variety of athletes it was painfully clear the stresses and strains that were now increasingly kicking in.
John passed us on each of the circuits looking comfortable, holding his rhythm and style, clearly grateful for the zero gradient and clearly grateful for the support from familiar faces. He was going extremely well and held this throughout the second half of the run, a phase that has proved so challenging in the past.
We lost count of the number of circuits he had completed and made our way to the finish on the strength of his estimated finish time rather than knowing that he had passed us for the last time. John had often said that slowing down is inevitable, it is the rate of slowing that determines personal bests. Trying to compute what this meant for his finishing time, I completely miscalculated.
Casually taking in the atmosphere at the finish zone, all of a sudden he was there in front of us on the fifty meter run-in to the finish.
Elated and exhausted in equal measure, John had put the dinosaurs to rest. He had completed Weymouth as an elite athlete, finishing 14th in his age group and 36th overall in a personal best time of 10:26. Those endless hours of preparation, planning and pacing had gelled.
But then dinosaurs were remarkably adaptable and resilient beasts!!! Who said the dinosaur was extinct???