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Race Reports 2012

The Big Woody  - Steve Riley (August 2012)

Whilst I would love to be worthy of the praise you have offered me for my Big Woody performance unfortunately it's not justified, in the words of Darth Vader "the force is with you young Riley, but you are not an Ironman yet".

So almost 6 months in the preparation and the daunting prospect of a 4am wake up was finally upon me. Waking up with the sound of owls (or is that pigeons, Mr Richardson) for company, I jumped in the car and headed for the Taurus Crafts Centre in Lydney that would be race HQ for the day.

This would only be a short stop to drop off my run kit for this split transition Tri. After this it would be my first and only sprint of the day to the swim venue and T1 at the National Diving Centre near Chepstow to make the race briefing on the lakeside at 06:15.

The swim was beautiful, like swimming in an Evian filled crucible; crystal clear, a refreshing but not too cold 17 degrees that tasted lovely. The venue is used as a diving centre so the lake is 80m deep, but this belies the setting as it was a further 30 - 40m to ground level from the water surface.

The swim passed without incident, one knock to the face displacing the goggles and a few falling stones but otherwise one of my most pleasant open water swimming experiences ever. Being a diving venue there were a lot of buoys on the water which made finding your way confusing on the first lap but otherwise four laps later I had covered 3.99km emerging from the water in a shocked 6th place, 1.08.40 after the starting hooter.

Now you'll recall that ground level was 30-40m above the water surface meaning just short of a 1km run uphill to the first timing mat at T1 (reached by 1.12.36) making this the hilliest swim I have ever done (a theme that would stick with me for the rest of the day).

Having already decided I'd be enjoying some John Timmins transitions I exited T1 under black clouds by 1.18.32. Having tried them, I can see how it would be difficult for John to give up relaxed transitions.

The bike was in two halves (well a third and two thirds), a great wind at your back blast down the A48 for the first 25-30km followed by a suicidal sheep, wind in your face hilly 50km, repeated twice for the Big Woody. This led to the first disappointment of the day, the shockingly 30km short bike route.

My first lap on the bike felt great, strike that my first 25-30km on each lap felt good then the hills started and the average started to drop. Despite that I passed the first feed station in a shocked 3rd place. Keen to avoid any bonking, I have never consumed so many energy gels or drunk as much carb drinks before in my life, I was sick of sweet substances by half way round the bike despite my now almost habitual Group 1 100km tea shop stop withdrawal symptoms and complaining about the lack of cream tea on offer on my second time past the feed station. A complaint that cost me a place!

140km in to the bike and I was starting to tire, I knew I needed to get down on the aero bars and save energy but my neck was killing me and I just couldn't face it and then I was passed by a rider I had taken within the first 25km. Conscious of saving energy for the run and starting to spin my legs up over the last (hilly) 10km I watched him ride into the distance. So after 1552m of climbing over 153.88km and 5.26.09 hours I entered T2 in a shocked 5th place in a time of 6.49.06.

After a John Timmins T2, involving towels, talc, Vaseline and fresh socks (which have never felt so good) I started on the run.

The run was brutal cross country, 6x 4mile-ish out and backs. Uphill for the first two miles of each lap, down hill for the next.

On the first lap I concluded that I had never been so glad to taste water, just water. My knee went after two laps not able to take the impact on the descents, so I was slowed to walking the downhills. Despite this I held a steady pace if a little slower than I had hoped for. During the run my wonderfully embarrassing sister did everything she could to make sure my turns on the run were uplifting, having mocked up and Ironman (think Robert Downey Jr) poster with the rest of the family entertaining me and everyone else with Mo-bots and Bolt impersonations. My Dad kept his encouragement Tourette's in check finding just the right balance of encouragement and motivation. And so I ran, waiting for the beeps from my watch to tell me to fuel, oblivious to the passage of time and how many gels I had consumed.

Despite this I was shocked and pleased to complete my last lap and head for the finish in 7th place, completing 34k and nearly 1km of climbing in 3.36.43 and a finishing time of 10.30.34.

In summing up my Big Woody experience I would have to say I'm confused. I'm disappointed it wasn't a full distance event and angry that this was known by the organisers who falsely advertised the event and could have made the run closer to the correct distance by adding another lap or two. I was also annoyed by the lack of organisation displayed by the event organisers in the run up to the event, but I can't fault their friendliness and enthusiasm on the day.

But I'm also pleased with what has been my longest race distance ever and my highest placing for a triathlon and I'm enthused by how pleasant I found my first attempt at an Iron distance event, an achievement I feel I owe to a great many of you.

When I moved to Hampshire 5 years ago I didn't know anyone save one friend from work. I had a plan to get back into Tri and to meet people but couldn't have known then what an inspirational, supportive and motivational group of people I would find in Farnham Tri that I now have the benefit and pleasure of calling my friends. Every part of my Big Woody performance can be attributed to someone in the club, from Carl Atkinson's race report on his triple experience last year that led to me thinking I could tackle this distance to Chris Roberts whose voice rang in my ears on the swim to only lift my head so I could see the water surface and no more. Mark Richardson whose advice to keep my heart rate below 80% was invaluable in seeing me through the distance and to Ali Wigg whose enthusiasm for seeing me suffer at the track on Mondays has helped me improve my running further than I had hoped. Finally to everyone else in the club with whom I've trained and shared experiences and hope to do so in the future, you've largely been the reason I make it to sessions, to catch up and find out what's going on rather than to improve performance which is a pleasant bonus.

So while I many not be an Ironman yet, the force is strong and I will complete a full distance event in 2013 and what's more I know I can do it with more of the support you have all offered in training and friendship over the past 5 years.

Happy Racing!

“…like swimming in an Evian filled crucible…”