Ironman 70.3 U.K. a “Sting in the Tail”
Women's winner Emma-Kate Lidbury reports on a tough day of racingJune 22, 2011
Photo by Richard Melik of Freespeed
Not all Ironman 70.3 races are created equal: while surely no single race can lay claim to being the toughest on the calendar, 70.3 U.K. could perhaps be one of the most worthy contenders for the title. As triathletes, we like extremes and superlatives; we like to know that we’ve pushed ourselves to our very limits. The British leg of the Ironman 70.3 series certainly does that and more.
Any athlete who has taken part in this race would wholeheartedly agree, and any prospective competitor would take a look at the course profile and suddenly fall silent. It is not, of course, simply about the hundreds of feet athletes climb on their bikes and then on the run (but if you are desperate to know, it’s 5,905 feet and 1,323 feet respectively). Nor is it about the freezing cold lake swim which kick-starts the event, held in Wimbleball, a remote part of south west England on Exmoor National Park. No, it’s perhaps a combination of all of these factors plus a certain fear factor that adds the sting in the tail.
Forget about updating your Facebook status from this event until you’re homeward bound.
The venue is accessible only via tiny country lanes and is one of very few spots in the U.K. where cell phone coverage and Wi-Fi are non-existent. In fact, the mere inquiry about either will only prompt laughter from locals. There would be no pre-race Tweeting, and forget about updating your Facebook status from this event until you’re homeward bound.
With the weather at this year’s event being typically British (read wet, windy, cold and grey), racking and registering the day before the race meant triathletes had to abandon their usual pre-race uniform. Wearing Zoot run shoes and compression tights might usually be all the rage, but with copious amounts of mud everywhere, Wellington boots (or wellies, as us Brits call them) were the only sensible option. Combine with compression tights and you’ve perfected quite a special look.
After several downpours the day before the race, come race day itself the Wimbleball weather gods seemed took mercy on competitors and, although gusty winds prevented any super-fast bike splits, the rain stayed away for most of the day.
A roaring chorus of “God Save The Queen” heralded the start of the race and not long after the last notes were sung, the starter’s horn was sounded and 1,600 athletes proceeded to thrash their way through the chilly waters of Wimbleball Lake. In the men’s pro race, it was Daniel Halksworth who reached dry land first, stopping the clock at 23:32 with Dane Martin Jensen and home favourite Stephen Bayliss just seconds behind him. The steep grassy 400m dash uphill into T1 is, for many, one of the toughest parts of this race and no matter how well prepared for it you are, it is always a guaranteed lung buster. Running uphill while trying to undo wetsuit zippers with fingers which have long since cramped with cold can surely only be classed as “fun” by endurance athletes who love to suffer.
In the women’s race, Simone Benz, from Switzerland, gave the girls a swim masterclass, exiting the water in 25:28, with only six men in front of her and plenty of daylight between her and the next pro women. After getting caught up in far too many boxing matches, which the age group men seemed to want to do more than actually swimming, I was out of the water second in 28:09 and was far from happy with how my day had started. Hot on my heels was Sam Warriner and we left T1 within seconds of each other. Warriner flew through the early miles on the bike while I took some time to find my bike legs and she’d soon eaten into the lead Benz had established in the water. Unfortunately for the Ironman New Zealand champion, Warriner suffered a puncture on lap two of the bike, which meant Benz was into T2 in the lead and I was trailing her, with about four minutes to make up if I wanted to take the title on home turf.
I actually roared with delight, relief, and joy as I crossed the line, and continued until someone sat me down and force-fed me Gatorade.
After riding a bike course like this one, it is not uncommon to run through T2 with legs that feel like they’ve been filled with lead. Although you can normally pacify your screaming body at this point with a mantra along the lines of “it’ll be OK, you’ll find your run rhythm soon”, at Wimbleball this is far from possible. You run downhill out of T2 and this is promptly followed with a steep grassy uphill section and then another downhill and … you get the picture. Forget finding those run legs. If you’re lucky, they might return some time in the next fortnight.
Although lap one was a grim experience for me, I soon realized I was eating into Benz’s four-minute lead and by the start of the third and final lap I caught her. It was not going to be that simple, though. Moments later, Eimear Mullen, a first-year pro from Ireland with great run pedigree, then caught me and proceeded to run away from me downhill. Just as I thought the 70.3 U.K. crown might be slipping out of reach, I realised I was actually catching her. A quick slurp of Coke at the next aid station and we were back to running uphill off-road. I started to feel really strong and caught up to Eimear knowing that if I didn’t make my move when I felt good then I’d regret it. After passing her, the very next athlete I saw ahead of me (of all 1600 on the course!) was my boyfriend who, seeing me in the lead, promptly went crazy and gave me enough verbal firepower to propel me to the finish. There were still a couple of miles to go so the win was by no means signed, sealed or delivered.
After winning 70.3 Mallorca, I could remember how sweet the finish chute was and I wanted it all over again. As I turned into the chute and saw I was clear for the win I was totally overwhelmed. To say I was pumped might be a bit of an understatement, as this is a race I have wanted to win ever since last year when I led for so much of it. Photographers, spectators, cameramen and nearby athletes have since told me I actually roared with delight, relief, and joy as I crossed the line, and continued until someone sat me down and force-fed me Gatorade. This was a hard-fought and well-earned victory and the adrenaline was coursing through my veins for hours after my 5:01.01 of racing. Eimear was second in 5:01.49 while another exciting new talent, Briton Lucy Gossage, was third in 5:03.43.
The men’s pro race saw Spaniard Mikel Elgezabal dominate the bike course, coming through from posting the tenth-fastest swim split to record a lightning quick 2:31.32 on two wheels. His 1:23 half marathon gave him a finish time of 4:25.15, which was 75 seconds ahead of Bayliss in second and Martin Jensen was third, less than a minute behind Bayliss.
Emma-Kate Lidbury is a triathlete and journalist who combines her passion for multisport training and racing with a flair for writing, researching and reporting. After enjoying great success as an amateur triathlete (she is 2008 European Age Group Champion and World Age Group Silver Medallist) she is now a full-time athlete, focusing on Ironman 70.3 and Olympic distance triathlon. Visit her blog here.