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Stealth Attack

Joined: 19 May 2003
Posts: 6890
Location: London

PostPosted: Thu Sep 11, 2003 2:52 pm    Post subject: Home Page Reply with quote

Perhaps its just me, but the home page is beginning to look a bit tired with now largely outdated reports of Windsor (June) and videos of the Sherborne race. Is there nothing more up to date that could replace them? If your'e desperate, I append below the race report from Sherborne that I prepared for the Thames Turbo newsletter. You would be more than welcome to use all or part of it as you wish.


“Of Mice and Men”

Someone once talked about the “best laid plans of mice and men”. Well, my “plan” was to qualify at Salford for Madiera next year and then fit in 3-4 weeks of intensive endurance based training in preparation for HIMUK at Sherborne on 31st August. The first part of the plan went according to schedule. The second part was not so good. I forgot to do any long-distance training apart from a few 1800m continuous swims at Heron Lake! So it was off to the rolling hills of Dorset, untrained and a virgin half-ironman - unless you count the Farnham long course that I completed in 1991. A 2000m pool swim – how could I possibly forget!

The Preparation

The family Holloway, missing their 17 year old Daughter who clearly had better things to do, headed for the South West early on the Friday morning and soon arrived at the Anthony-Leweston school for very rich girls which was to be our base for the next three days. Registration was a pretty painless affair after which I left Angie and son Tim in the town centre while I headed off to meet up with several guys from the triathlon discussion e-group for a one lap recce of the bike course. But neither showed up, both being stuck on the M5! But I did manage to go round the course in the car just to get a feel of what was in store. In the early evening we headed off to the pasta party. I use the word pasta advisedly. Perhaps it’s just me, but I found the polystyrene carton more appetising than the contents! Must remember to give it that one a miss next year and head instead for the Abbey Friar (fryer – get it?) fish and chip shop instead. Scrummy! Saturday started early with a morning dip in Sherborne Lake. Initial impressions were good, except for the lack of marker buoys along the middle of the lake. The rest of the day was spent resting, eating and eventually, sleeping.

Race morning

After eating a hearty breakfast, we left our school at HQ at 5.30am only to hit a long traffic jam. We joked about the clouds of mist that were shrouding the whole of Sherborne knowing very little about how it was about to effect the start of the event. After leaving the rest of the family asleep in the car I headed into transition to check the bike and get the gels and fluid on board. But with just two metres of the lake shore visible from the mist, it was clear to all that the race start would have to be delayed but unfortunately the announcement came too late to prevent us all from shivering in our wetsuits and barefeet. The mood was, surprisingly, very good natured, although the second announcement of a further delay until 8.00am was greeted with more than the odd hoot of derision!

The Swim

At 7.55am, we were ushered into the now clearly visible Sherborne Lake. I swam off with the 30-35 minute wave and after a 150m swim to the start line, I found myself almost at the front of the race! It took another 10-15 minutes or so to get everybody into the water but without so much of a warning, the start hooter went off. I was facing the wrong way and there was general pandemonium as shouts of “false start” rang out! My main recollection of the swim is that contrary to expectation, I was not swam over/beaten up/punched/kicked, any more than in a normal mass start swim. I can only put this down either to a bit of good luck, or, perhaps more likely, the fact that the pack of 1400 was so strung out when the hooter went that everybody had far more clear water than would otherwise have been the case. I did get hit three times in the face, but nothing too serious, and I managed to crawl out of the lake in 32mins 21secs, about a minute inside my target time. OK, so it might have been short but it’s the same for everybody!


Being my first long distance event, I had to keep telling myself that a sub minute T1 was not required or desirable! I felt quite fresh after the swim and with the wetsuit off, it was just a question of putting a pair of cycling shorts over the trisuit, donning a pair of socks, putting the bike shoes and helmet on before heading off to mount my trusty iron steed (well, aluminium actually!). But the omens were not good. Just in front of me, someone had clearly come a cropper and was lying unconscious at the side of the path tangled up in his bike. To be honest, there was a great deal of confusion with too many cyclists coming to a halt in front of us because of their inability to get their feet into their shoes first time round. Stopping in front of a phalanx of cyclists on the move on a narrow path is a recipe for disaster, albeit, a slow moving one.

The first obstacle after leaving the Castle grounds was the 1 mile climb of West Hill. It was half way up this hill that I was grateful for my decision earlier in the week to switch from a 53/42 chainset to a 53/39. I simply glided up the hill and overtook quit a few struggling with bigger gears. The road surface was patchy, both literally and metaphorically speaking. No pot holes to speak of but instead a very lumpy tarmac that made the bike vibrate. Not having done any bike course longer than 30 miles this year, my game plan was to survive on the bike by sticking to an average speed of 20mph. I knew this would vary, given the topography of the course but as if by magic I went through the 20 and 40 mile markers in one hour and two hours respectively.

Most of the pre-race comments about the bike course had centred on the climb up Giants Head, so called because of the proximity of the carving of the Giant Man on the hillside at Cerne Abbass. Interestingly, the chalk carving is also known as the “Rude Man” – take a look girls – you might be impressed! Interestingly, I didn’t find this climb too difficult. I just spun away on my granny gear (39 x 2Cool and don’t recall even getting out of the saddle on the first lap. For me. the tougher climb was the earlier one near Lyons Gate which was just as steep and over a longer distance. For me. it certainly meant getting out of the saddle!

Now avid readers of the various e-group discussion sites will know how much I love fast descents. Cries of “oh my god” from the family as we drove down Tilley Knapp in the car dented my already fragile confidence even further! Let’s just say that I woke up several times on Saturday night in a cold sweat having dreamt terrible thoughts of coming unstuck at 50 mph. I had taken the precaution of getting my bike checked over and the front Zipp 440 wheel bearings repaired so mechanically, I should have been fine. It was at this point in the race that I made my first mistake. I started the bike section with two large water bottles in a rear bottle carriage but unfortunately, I lost one on one of the bumpier sections of the course. Having finished the contents of my front mounted profile drink bottle, in an example of perfect timing, I choose the very start of the sharp descent to refill it! Imagine the scene. One hand on the bars, the other waving a full drinks bottle trying desparately to put it back from whence it came. At 35 mph I gave up and threw the bottle into the hedgerow. Not very environmentally friendly I know but the survival instinct took over. At 40 mph the bike started to shimmy rather than wobble so I began to apply the brakes and I managed to keep the speed on the fastest section of the hill to about 47mph. I felt in control at this speed but it did mean that the group just in front of me at the top of the descent were now long gone.

Luckily, there was plenty of opportunity to take water bottles on board and the loss of both my own didn’t effect my race at all. It just meant drinking Gatorade rather than my own preference of Hydrapower. The second lap of the bike course was much the same except that by now, there had been an accident on the descent and we were all red-flagged and instructed to slow down. We were soon back on the A352 back to Sherborne and my legs were certainly grateful for the nice descent down West Hill and along New Road back into the Castle. I timed my bike split at a few seconds over 2hrs 49mins but, as for the swim, I also felt that the bike was short. Having checked with other finishers, most of our computers read somewhere in the region of 54.5 miles.

A lot of the post-race talk has been about drafting. It has to be said that this was inevitable given the mass start of 1400 competitors over a relatively short swim distance. From my perspective, I would only say that there were a lot of guys/gals cycling in groups but people were drifting in and out at good speed so that any advantage was, for the most part, pretty short lived. Of course there was a minority prepared to cheat and suck wheels throughout the whole course and the 50 or so penalties handed out for drafting offences is probably a fair indication of the real size of the problem.


Stepping off the bike, the legs felt in pretty good nick. Partly, this was due to the varied nature of the terrain which meant that different muscle groups in the legs were put to use. I had also made the conscious effort to freewheel and stretch my back every 20 minutes over the final lap. A fat lot of good this did me but more about that later! The final transition was a fairly rapid affair; off with the helmet, shoes and cycling shorts, on with the running shoes and baseball cap. By now, the sun was quite strong although, mercifully, it was not too hot given the 13.1 miles of running that lie ahead.

The Run (jog/crawl/walk or whatever)

I left T2 feeling very elated. Taking into account how little long distance training I had done in preparation and looking at the times for Llanberis last year, I had reckoned on finishing somewhere between 5 hrs and 5hrs 30 mins. Expected time of arrival was 5hrs 15mins. But I left T2 with only 3hrs 28 mins or so on the clock and suddenly, a sub five hour race was on the cards. The first stretch of path on the run was very gently uphill and I soon made up ground on those that had passed me on the last few miles of the bike. I was feeling fine and running well. I then turned the corner and was greeted by loud shouts of encouragement from Jules and her crew – most appreciated. If I did look good at that point, it didn’t last long. I struggled up the first ascent, barely much faster than jogging pace. Despite all the stretching on the bike, my back had seized up and refused to co-operate on any uphill stretch of the course. But I was determined not to walk and I painfully jogged my way up to the turn round point. The next few miles were downhill and I was able to return to something like my normal half marathon pace. But we soon faced another climb – not so steep, but a fair bit longer. It was half way up this climb that I gave in to the inevitable and started to walk. I developed a 10 step walk/2 minute run technique which at least kept me moving at a reasonable rate. The next 3 or 4 miles were either downhill or flat and I was able to make up some of the time I had lost on the hills. I saw brief glimpses of John, Jo and Jacques and all seemed to be going well. Out on to the second lap and that hill again! This time I knew that Jules and the crew were lying through their teeth! I most certainly didn’t look or feel good! The back problem continued to give me gip on both the main climbs and it was with a great sense of relief that I turned around at the top of the second climb knowing that the rest was all downhill – well, not up anyway.

I began to make up some places and passed through the 12 mile marker in 4hrs 54mins. All thoughts of a sub 5 hour race evaporated and I even stopped for about 10 seconds at the final feed station for a final cup of Gatorate, knowing that a sub 6 minute final 1.1 miles was a mission impossible. You can imagine my surprise therefore, when I turned around onto the final stretch of grass to hear the race commentator suggesting that a sub five hour was after all possible. But I couldn’t summon enough pace up the final grassy path and crossed the line in a frustrating 5hrs 8secs. Doh!

The Aftermath

Ok, I cannot say that I am sub five hour half ironman, but I didn’t start out with that intention and I had thoroughly beaten my pre-race prediction. Perhaps my bike tactics had been too cautious and in a perfect World, my back wouldn’t have been a problem. But these are the sort of issues that make long distance racing so different from sprint and olympic distance racing. It reminds me of my road running days. Over 5 miles. 10km, etc, it was just eye-balls out, no tactics. But when racing over 10 miles to the marathon distance, you had to learn how to run “slow” and how to pace your effort. So, if I had pushed the bike harder, who is to say that my run time wouldn’t have been even slower?

But even if I had gone under the five hour barrier, I would not have been over the moon, given the disputed lengths of both the bike and the run. For example, a work colleague of mine records virtually the same time over the Hampton sprint course and last year at Llanberris, recorded a time of 5hrs 23mins. He is certainly fitter this year but he managed a 4hrs 45min finish at Sherborne and I find it difficult to apportion that 38 minute improvement to fitness alone. I have nothing but admiration for the race organisation and all the various sponsors who made the event a fantastic experience but if they are serious in moving up to the full ironman distance, then questions do need to be asked about the course to make sure that the distances are accurate.

On reflection, however, I am pleased that I entered and pleased with my time. If the half ironman distance is to be repeated next year, I will be there gunning for a 4hr 45m finish. And this time, I promise to do some training!

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