Ironman 70.3 Exmoor – June 2016

I entered the Ironman 70.3 at Wimbleball Lake because I knew it was a tough course which I would really enjoy, and also as a backup just in case I didn’t qualify in France for the 70.3 World Championships. Luckily I had my spot already so entered the race relaxed, knowing the pressure was off and ready to tackle my hardest middle distance to date.

Wimbleball Lake was only a 2 ½ hour drive from Perranporth but I still decided to head up on the Friday evening as I knew Saturday could be a busy day. I stayed at a cottage in Greenham which I found on air B n B. Robert and Vivan made me feel very welcome in their home and it definitely beat staying at a bed and breakfast / hotel. I’ll definitely be staying again if I’m to do this race in the future.

Saturday morning was nice and lazy having breakfast and watching TV before leaving at 11am to head to the lake. On arrival there were cars everywhere and it took a while to reach the car park. Once down at registration I picked up my race numbers, timing chip, transitions bags and went about getting my bike sorted. I did a quick 15 minute spin to check my gears and brakes and then went and racked in transition along with my transition bags. Once happy everything was sorted I left the lake to head back to the cottage, stopping for lunch on route at the weirdest café I’ve ever been too. Feet up for the afternoon after a 20 minute jog, early dinner and it was lights out early with the alarm set for 4am.

4am came round way too quickly and it felt like I had only closed my eyes for a few minutes. I left the cottage at 5am as I was worried about the traffic, but on arrival at 5:45am it wasn’t too bad and was down finishing my bike setup at 6am. Usual pre-race routine sorted and I joined the 1000+ wetsuit dressed athletes for the rolling start. I recognised one of the guys from Grafham and knew he was a good swimmer, at 7am the race started and I was straight onto his feet. The swim went very well, I felt comfortable and strong in a leading group of 4. We exited the lake and made the 400m uphill run to transition. I over took two of the guys running up the hill so jumped onto my bike in second place. Within the first couple of miles you are faced with a long uphill, I tried to settle into my power zones and not worry about the athlete up ahead. I caught him easily though and before I knew it I was leading the race. I tried not to get carried away as the next 10 miles were rolling hills and quick. On the biggest decent of the loop I was caught and overtaken – I thought I was going quickly but this athlete made it look like I wasn’t moving. The main two climbs I felt strong going up and kept up with the athletes around me, even gaining time on them, but as soon as we hit the descents they were gone. I know I need to focus on my descending skills over the winter. Lap one of the bike done and I felt ok, sat in 4th spot and ready to tackle the second loop. I focused on nutrition on the second lap and my legs were really starting to fatigue on the gruelling hills come the end. By 50 miles I was ready for T2 and was pleased to finally make it. I lost another three places during the lap.

I started the run 7th but 6th place exited transition with me and I managed to get past and drop him within the first mile. The run course was hilly, on grass and gravel and not very pleasant. I just settled into a rhythm and did what I do – run hard. At the end of the lap theres an out and back and the top 3 guys were very close together but further ahead of myself than I had expected. This made my head drop but I saw 4th and 5th were catchable. Second lap I was still running well and managed to catch and pass 5th and 4th spots and with some quick maths realised at this pace catching 3rd was possible and maybe even 2nd if he blew. First place however had moved further ahead – Andy Greenleaf is an exceptional runner and posted the quickest run split of the day and at Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire a few weeks ago. I gave everything on the final lap as I just wanted to finish. I could see I was catching 3rd and by mile 12 managed to overtake him. I ran hard for the final mile but 2nd place was too far ahead. I enjoy the finishing shoot high fiving and soaking up the atmosphere.

Race over, 3rd overall and 1st in the 25-29 age group. I also posted the 2nd quickest run split of the day. I got to experience my first champagne podium moment before packing up and heading home making it just in time for a Sunday roast. I enjoyed the race and this race will hopefully fit into my 2017 schedule.

Michael Birchmore

Training hard is what I do

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