Ironman UK


July 20th, 2017 by



I had my heart set on racing Ironman UK ever since my 4th place in Ironman Texas. I wanted to give my best shot at winning an Ironman this year and I figured this would be a good opportunity for me. Especially since it’s a couple of hours up the road on very similar roads to what we’re used to.

It wasn’t all smooth from getting back from Texas to now. I think when you race an Ironman apart from the initial soreness and fatigue it just seems to take something mentally from you as well. I was very happy with my performance in Texas but a month down the line I found myself pretty unmotivated, not enjoying my training particularly and even though I was doing my sessions there wasn’t really any flare in there at all.

About 5 weeks out from Bolton. I had Dann B’s week long wedding in Santorini to force me into a rest. Super excited about a mid season holiday and feeling pretty naughty about it. I packed up my BMC mountain bike, my On’s and my Speedos and jetted off to one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been with my wife. We had an amazing week out there, I trained one session every day just based off how I felt. Some easy runs, some max hill reps on the bike and run and some swimming in the sea. I also had a couple of solid parties obviously to wash it all down but in general I came away from Santorini FRESH and motivated. When I got back home I vowed to go all in for Bolton and see what happens and I arrived in Bolton feeling very good about life. Just shows a bit of rest doesn’t do any harm and I knew deep down that slightly underdone but motivated is way more important then overdone and over it!

Santorini

There were a few things about Ironman Bolton that scared me a bit but the main one was the lack of predictability about it. The weather is always an issue up there, very, very, bad road surface, twisty and very hilly course which would slow down the riding time dramatically, especially if you managed to get yourself lost! All in all, even if I had the best possible race the winning time would be in the 8hr40’s which is about 40mins longer then I’m used to. Which is obviously not ideal when you’re racing an Ironman. I put all this at the back of my mind, tried to get to know the course and roll with it.

After the earliest start ever of 5:55am the gun sounded and we made our way round the course in Pennington Flash lake. I felt good and sat at the back of the group of 7 of us. After the first lap I knew I was in a dodgy position and I moved up to 3rd and soon realised that was a bloody good move because for the whole last 1900m we were essentially starting at the back of the Age Group field due to the rolling starts. Obviously it’s hard to follow each others feet while passing a thousand people but because I was in 3rd I could just about and behind me the guys who all were stronger then me on the first lap got themselves lost between the amateurs!

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When we exited the water straight away we noticed very wet weather and I realised it was going to be a grim and sketchy first lap of the bike. Romain Guillaume gapped Harry Wiltshire and I straight away but it was alway my plan to let him do his own thing so I wasn’t too worried about that.  After 20k Cyril Viennot joined us and we rode together for a while, got lost briefly at one of the roundabouts and then he buggered off on the main hill Sheep House Lane. I rode 355w up there for 9mins and Cyril must have been closer to 400w. That’s not the way I can afford to race so we had to let him go.

We barely saw a motorbike referee the whole race hence why we took a wrong turn early on…(Thanks for that) but coming into one corner following Harry I drifted within the draft zone and sure enough a referee was standing there and pinged me straight away. 5mins stand down penalty at the end of the bike…Of course I had to keep my cool but deep down I knew the win was probably impossible now. I rode ok, I had decent legs I guess but I kept on making silly mistakes along the way which cost me time. I just wish the referees would be a bit more reasonable sometimes and use a bit more discretion…I’m not a cheater and 5mins penalty when you see a just a snap shot of the race isn’t acceptable. As is giving me a penalty in Texas for accidentally dropping a energy bar on the bike. (as if I want to drop an energy bar?!?!)

run finish

I came into T2 2nd after a better 2nd half of the bike. I believe Harry ran into some mechanical issues unfortunately for him and I served my 5mins penalty. It was about 2.5mins later when Kirill Kotsegarov and a few others trickled in so I ended up running out in 4th. 12mins down on Cyril and 2.5mins down on Kirill. The bike was harder then I’d usually ride in an Ironman so I was worried how my legs would feel but fortunately they felt their usual bouncy selves and I set off in pursuit, a little bit too hard as usual…

After the first out and back section I got an idea of what was happening behind me and I knew that so long as I ran ok I’d be safe for a 3rd place because the gaps were quite big. Over the next 10k I managed to claw back a minute on Kirill but the gaps were not coming down quickly and I had certainly set off with a lot of ambition and was hoping to be closer quicker. Between 10-30k I was still pumping out 3:49 average pace which is good for a 2:40 marathon and certainly too fast on this course but I still wasn’t and closer to Kirill and by this point I was getting really tired. In the last 15k I started taking on cola, I took a few short walks on the steeper hills and the negativity started to consume me and I realised that this last minute probably wasn’t possible to close today. Do you know how hard it is to see someone in front you’re expecting to pass for 38k, only to hold the gap the whole time! I must have given up the chase about 5 times!

I grovelled up the final set of hills on the last lap generally looking forward to sitting down finally and then at the last turn with 4k to go I started to feel a lot better and Kirill was about 40 seconds ahead and obviously not feeling so hot anymore! My team manager Bob and my family were out on the course and willing me to be strong and push for 2nd and I thought about how much nicer it would be to man up and come away with a result you had all but given up on. So I made a decision to go for it one last time, all out, and close the gap slowly but gradually.  The gap came down surprisingly fast in the end and I passed him at full speed to try to demoralise him into thinking I was feeling amazing! I think my last split before I attacked was 4:05 and my split when I passed Kirill was 3:22.

Ironman uk finish

So I crossed the line in 2nd. 6mins behind Cyril Viennot. Not exactly what I wanted and not the smoothest of races but I’m really proud of how I raced and a podium can never be sniffed at. My run split was 2:46 for 42.8k on a very tough course which gives me a lot of confidence in my running going into Kona.

A big thanks as usual to my family, Luc Van Lierde, BMC Etixx, and friends. Without you it wouldn’t be possible to race at a high level in this sport. Congrats to my competitors and of course the Pro ladies on your close racing. Thanks also to the volunteers and spectators. Finally a big congrats to everyone who muscled it out on this very challenging course. This is not an easy Ironman option, the course presents so many extra challenges and takes more time and energy them most Ironman races just to complete. You don’t get one meter for free here and anyone who gets round it can be very proud of your achievement.

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Boulder – Ironman Texas


April 27th, 2017 by




STAGS

This year the Clarke family agreed that we’d pack up and head off Stateside for our first big trip of the year culminating with Ironman Texas. I just don’t know for how many more years I’ll be able to just cruise off the Boulder to prepare for a race. My son is not too far off starting school and you never know if or when the money will dry up. So we decided while we could, we would. I absolutely love it over there, in my eyes it’s the ultimate place to train. I find the perfect balance between happiness and hard work in Boulder + the altitude does a lot of the hard work for you anyway. So of my 4 trips to Boulder, I never failed to get in shape.

Brainard

There was an elephant in the room for this trip. Before I got on the flight I hadn’t run for 3 whole weeks, recovering from a stress reaction my doctor diagnosed in my hip. It’s the first time in my career I’ve had to manage something like this and I never really knew if or when I started back my hip would be truly ready to train again. However I did manage to get all the running done that Luc set me done during my 3 week Boulder trip, sometimes it wasn’t pretty and on some of those runs my body unbalanced and way out of whack, but in general the volume was fairly low and luckily it just about held up for me. I knew if I could make it through the running the week taper would help it recover the rest of the way and luckily it did.

Ironman Texas also hosts the North American Championships so it attracts a pretty strong field and offers decent prize money and points for qualifying for Ironman Hawaii. We stayed with a local family, Lisa and Ewan Evans who were kind enough to host my wife and my son as well. A massive thanks to them for putting up with us, they really made our trip.

When I first signed up for this one I had my heart set on going Sub 8hrs again and possibly a British record and I could see the days before that this was going to be a FAST! Especially with the forecast set to be overcast on race day. Lucky me… I think on a hot day it’d have been different. 

family Texas

After all the extra effort in swimming training recently, including getting up at 4am for Stretch Cords in the garden. I was super happy that I could keep up with the front lads in the swim. It’s something I was nervous about before the race because non-wetsuit swims are something I struggled with last year in Ironman racing. I think I lost 4mins both times last year and that’s not a good start to the day when you’ve got 180k and a marathon ahead of you.

It was a bit spread out once we finally got through transition and onto the bike. Starky took off like he always does but I think everyone knew trying to follow wasn’t an option. He was chasing bike course records again and after everything he’s been through. Read his story…we knew he wouldn’t be running properly at the end but fair play, amazing to see his comeback and incredible bike split. Anyway, after 10k we pretty much established ourselves and rode a steady pace for the first 90k.

I could see that the best bikers had lost around 6mins in the swim but still I was sure they’d make an appearance eventually. Around about 40k I made my first mistake of the race. I took one of my Etixx Bars from my bike and managed to pull two off at once. So I gobbled one of them and then tried to put the other in my pocket but right in front of the referee I lost grip on it and dropped it. Intentional littering is a 5mins penalty so I was spewing that he carded me for a blatant accident! I was having the perfect race so far so losing 5mins would completely end my day. When I got to the penalty tent I watched all my hard work undo itself as the others rode past me but fortunately the referee said he was only giving me 1min penalty and after 50secs he let me go once he realised that he was too harsh on me. I could just about see the other lads and I bombed it back up to them catching them back within 5k of riding. Definitely some matches burnt there…

running Texas

The bikers finally caught us at 100k into the bike and instantly the pace got much harder and this is when guys started falling off the back of the group. I went through a bit of a wobble around 120k and after 5k of pushing too hard I realised that if I carried on like this I wasn’t going to feature on the run, so I let about 12 guys disappear up the road and I ended up with a group of three athletes. Unfortunately I was the strongest guy in this threesome and the guys couldn’t contribute much so especially in the last 15k we lost quite a bit of time on the groups in front. This was my 2nd mistake of the day because in the end there was easily a minute or more which would have been very easy to recover.

What it did mean is that when I finally got onto the run, providing my legs were up for it, and my hip injury didn’t make an appearance. I was probably going to run through a lot of people, which is funny as it’s a whole marathon and longer than I ever train by quite a margin. I know from the very moment I put on my On Cloud Flows whether I’m going to run fast or whether I’m going to be creeping. It’s night and day for me. Well on this day, I felt great and I set off in pursuit of the podium! I saw the timing clock was on 5hr 15mins. I used my best maths to work out that gave me 2hr45 to get through transition which was quite long and get a marathon ticked off if I wanted to get under 8hr again.

When you get an Ironman right there is no better feeling, the first 20k didn’t really hurt me at all. I enjoyed it, soaked up the atmosphere on the course and enjoyed still being able to move fast after 6hrs of racing! I think I went through the first 10k in 35mins which is way too fast but I had already caught 6 guys by the end of the first lap. In an Ironman you can’t get more motivating then that! In these Professional races you have to remember that everyone can run a good first half of the marathon, That’s the easy bit and I tried to remind myself of that… It’s the 2nd half where the wheels really fall off so I consciously slowed it down to something a little more sustainable, took my time in the aid stations and focused on still being strong on the last lap.

Ronnie and I

The next guys were very tough to catch as by the last lap I was still on 2:38 pace but I was starting to get very sore in my quads. It’s not really surprising is it after 7hrs on the limit!? With 5k to go I passed Krill Kotsegarov and moved into 4th place but as soon as I did that I started to fade a lot. 1st and 2nd were out of the equation now but 3rd place Tyler Butterfield was just 30sec ahead and was hurting! However now I was paying for the 3 weeks of running that I missed and every time I pushed my quads locked up and mentally it was crazy challenging!

The whole last lap all nutrition was out of the window. I was back to backing Etixx Caffeine Energy Gels and chugging cups of coke and Isotonic at all the aid stations! I could see that Tyler was doing the same. I got the gap down to 15 seconds, which is agonisingly close but that was all I could physically close. As I ran up the finishing chute I could see that the timing clock was just about to tick over 7:59 so I became the first British person ever to go sub 8hrs twice. 

I’m super happy with my start to the season. It’s only April, this result payed for my whole trip (but that’s about it). Got me most of the way to qualifying for Kona again, and gave me confidence that I really belong among the top guys in Ironman. Thanks to everyone who supports me on my journey. My family, BMC Etixx P/B Uplace Team, On running, Luc Van Lierde and my friends. Congrats to everyone who finished, especially my competitors Matt, Ronnie and Tyler.

Texas podium

Winter gains


February 20th, 2017 by



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With over half of the winter ticked off now and just 5 weeks till my first race of the year. I thought I’d update you on how things are going and how the season is shaping up.

I’ve just returned from my 3rd trip to Lanzarote this winter staying at my home from home Sands Beach Resort. My aim this winter was to get through as consistent as possible and as far as I’m concerned, just that would already be a big success for me. I’ve always prided myself for being a consistent athlete in training and racing but the the past 5 years not so much at all as every winter has had it’s complications and sometimes that also crept into the season as well. I think February and March are very important preparation months and if you miss half of that with sickness, crashes, injuries, motivation. Whatever it is then you’re paying for it during the season.

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The past 3 years I was wintering in South Africa and as much as I think it’s a stunning location and an incredible place to spend time, for me it’s not ideal for training anymore. It’s too hot (in training and also when trying to recover at home) the wind and the hills slowly grind you down and to be honest, quite dangerous and the chances of having something go wrong is high. So I decided now to train most of the winter in Lanzarote. Our team sponsor Sands Beach look after us so well providing us with a warm outdoor pool a pull buoy’s throw away, great accommodation and healthy food that we can grab just moments after training which is perfect for recovery. The temperature is spot on for consistent training during winter at around 20-23’c but it’s also cool enough to sleep like a baby at night. It’s a tough island due to the hills and the wind but equally that makes you strong! As it’s probably the best place in Europe to train in the winter many professional athletes train on the island so you always have someone to train with as well as the local athletes on the island keen to hook up.

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As I write this the winter has gone perfectly to plan, my form is slowly moving in the right direction and I’m excited for the first block of racing. So far I’ve planned just the first part of the season as what happens after that will depend on the first races. I’ll go to Puerto Rico 70.3 first up, mostly as a tune up and to blow the cob webs out. Then I’ll take an internal flight to Boulder, Colorado for a block of altitude training where my family will also come and join me. Then after a month there my first big goal, Ironman Texas which is also the American Championships (big points and prize money). My goal is to qualify for Kona again but I only want to go if I know I can be successful. This means qualifying early enough in the year that I’m fresh enough in October to put together a hot and hard Ironman performance but I also need to know my Time Trialling is in place and that’s what I’ve been working on his winter. This is my weakness and it’s something I’ve been working hard to improve. Puerto Rico and Texas will be the first indicators if my biking is ready to play with the big boys.

I hope you all have a successful winter and excited for the Tri season, see you out there!

Photo Credit : Breakthrough media