Ironman UK race report: Lawrence Cronk

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Ironman UK in Bolton, my fourth Iron distance race. Why Ironman UK? A question I got asked a lot when as a Welsh

man Tenby would be your first choice. Simple answer, it fitted in the calendar nicely with my best mates wedding in Barcelona the following week.

As usual that final 4-6 week block before the taper throws up all the doubts as to whether you will be ready, the training gets more and more monotonous, the fatigue builds and your food bill escalates! I’ve been here before, trust in the plan and trust in the taper, you’ll be fine.  

In the two weeks leading up the race Ironman warned us that a key part of the bike course had been affected by wildfires and they were exploring solutions. The solution was a 95 mile alternative. A bit of a blow for those first time Ironman athletes and social media saw plenty of opinions as you can imagine, some even suggesting they would ride their own extra 17 miles then re-join the race! Ironman confronted this in the pre race briefing and made it pretty clear that between negotiations with the council and emergency services the extra 17 miles of closed roads couldn’t be found. I wasn’t particularly phased by it, just mildly annoying that I have to mention the caveat when someone points out I went sub 10 hours. 

The day before the race was hectic. A split transition with the swim being 16 miles away from the run meant a lot of prior planning, bouncing between the hotel, registration, briefing, two transitions and then finding time to drive the new section of bike route. I’d travelled to Bolton twice in recent months to ride the course, I thought it would be daft to leave the new bit to chance given the prep that had gone into this.  

0330 alarm coffee, porridge, let’s do this…...we had opted to drive to to the swim start instead of take the shuttle bus, I need my alone time, I really hate listening to nervous chat before races, a bit of Audioslave and Rage Against The Machine in the van is what I need! I try and get in and out of transition and onto the start line as late as possible, I jump the barrier and join the sixty minute swim wave. 

No gps watch for me in the swim, one less device to worry about, instead I make a mental note of the time when I enter the water. The swim starts and what a ball ache! No, literally A BALL ACHE! I had somehow trapped one very, very tightly against my pubic bone and every rotation to my left caused a severe sharp pain. After a couple of minutes and a little more space I took a couple of long strokes on one side and used the other hand to try and ‘rearrange.’ It didn’t help, my mind starts wondering, ‘come on, concentrate, remember the tips from the endless pool session.’ That made it worse, the longer I made my stroke, the more I arched my back and any extra rotation all added to the pressure of my suit against it! The Aussie exit at half way gave me an opportunity to ‘shake a leg,’ unfortunately no let up. Back in for another excruciating lap. Two hundred metres to go and I am thinking ‘I hope I haven’t done any permanent damage, what if it still hurts on the bike?’ Then dooof, a swimmer I am lapping, who I think was breast stroking caught me right on that spot with a heel, ‘are you kidding me!’ I swallow some water, little bit of sick in the mouth, probably shed a tear inside my goggle and climb onto the pontoon. Instant cramp in my right calf! It’s usually my left after a long swim, probably doing something different with my legs to mask the pain this time. Amazing what a bit of gravity can do, as I run to T1 the pain subsides, I see someone I know (a decent Welsh triathlete) and realise after that horrendous mental battle I haven’t ‘ballsed’ it up completely, 18th in AG.  

Onto the bike and out of T1. Three speed bumps out of the park and some nutrition escapes from my bento box. A momentary thought of leaving it, for the sake of about twenty seconds it was was wise to pick it up. Onto the open road, pretty flat for the first fifteen miles. Head down, watch the numbers, settle in. I’ve opted for three metrics on screen; five second average power, time and cadence. I have power boundaries for the flat and boundaries for the two major climbs, if I obey those then my average power should be about what I have trained to and my variability index should be low enough to run well off the bike. I needed to make sure I took the climbs pretty easy as they were both very steep. This all sounds very sensible, it’s a plan, I’ve practiced it, it will work, so why the hell I am cycling above threshold power only fifteen minutes into the ride? I recall a joke from the Trainer Road podcast about how you think your power meter is broken at the start of a race. I have a word with myself, ‘It’s not broken and your taper hasn’t added forty watts to your FTP, don’t be a dick, back off the effort’. Twenty miles in and I’ve gone up and down the descent on the new part of the course. So glad I drove it the day before it was very steep and technical on the way down! Then ‘tssssssss’ that dreaded sound, pinch flat, gutted! I’ve never had a flat in a race before, luckily I stayed surprisingly calm. Only one spare tube so I made absolutely sure I wasn’t going to make any mistakes with re-inflating, ten minutes pass and many, many, many places lost. Back to it and I had to be aggressive, no coasting behind people waiting for over taking opportunities, I had to squeeze through every gap and let people know I was coming if there wasn’t one. It meant more surges in power to get round people so I had to become a little more free with my power goals. More power meant more energy so I threw out old bottles at each feed and took fresh ones, the original plan was to grab from every other but I couldn’t risk running out. In a bid to save more time I managed to pee on the bike, something I’ve always struggled to do, mini fist pump. After the second loop was finished I hit the 10 mile stretch back towards Bolton. I allowed myself one flick of the screen to check average speed, bang on 20mph (moving pace), exactly what I deemed doable in practice, shame the puncture stop brought the overall pace down somewhat, 27th in AG. 

Out of T2 and Laura is waiting for me. She had been briefed that if I was top 10 in AG she was to guide me with regular updates as to who was near in my AG. ‘20 mins down on 10th, just have a good run.’ I look down at my watch, 3:40/KM avg pace, OK I’ve only ran 500m but that is ridiculous, must look at that more often! A four lap run course with a short section in Bolton centre then into the park and out onto a long out and back. Into the park was a killer! A really steep and windy path then no relief at the top, you hit the out and back section and carried on gradually climbing, the pace really slowed here but I tried to make it into a positive and break up the course mentally, ‘it’s just four times up that hill, just like IM Wales.’ First half marathon done in 1:36, but I’m getting hot and I know the real battle is yet to come. My stomach feels the size of a pea and my legs start to feel a bit fuzzy, like I might lose control of them when I have to run downhill again. I’ve been here before, time to switch to cola! The run feed stations at Ironman are great, the volunteers are always super enthusiastic and helpful, the trouble is they are almost too close together and as you get tired you get drawn in by each one, a routine of one cup of cola, washed down with water and then another cup of water over the head felt awesome and definitely brought my legs back to life but looking back I probably lost some time doing this more often than I needed. Finally, the last lap, with about 4km to go I find it in me to lift the pace, I know I can turn around today’s misfortunes with a IM run PB. Then the twinge, I’ve been here before too! Left hamstring, it’s going to cramp, it’s a matter of time, slowing down doesn’t help so I stop and just let it happen. A steward runs over as I’m stuck bolt upright in the middle of the course clutching my buttock. It frees up pretty quickly and I get moving again, I’m dreading the final descent through the park as it’s a prime spot for more cramp. It’s a miserable final few KM, I know I will just about hit that run PB but I can’t pick up the pace or soak up the atmostphere and crowd on the run in, I’m focussed purely on every left foot strike and keeping my stride within the limits of the cramp. I spot someone from a local Welsh team in the final 500m and manage to make the pass, convinced I will cramp again on the red carpet, crossing the finish line was far more relief than joy! 09:39:29 Finish.  

Mixed feelings about the day so as you do you go about extracting every split, category, gender and overall position you can then analyse training peaks for longer than it took you to do the race! 21st in AG could have been 16th out of 188 without a flat tire but the numbers suggest I shouldn’t be disappointed with how I executed the rest of the race. The swim and bike challenges made the day as hard mentally as physically, maybe a few more lows than highs this time, but hey, that’s Ironman!