My Ultra Journey… Most people haven’t and won’t experience what a Double Ironman is like as an event – I wanted to give a quick overview of my race experience to allow others who might have never considered ultra events the chance to step into the unknown as I did on Saturday morning.
The race began at 9:00am Saturday morning at Avon Tyrell (New Forest) – the start of the race is unlike anything I’ve experienced in the ultra events previously. With such small numbers on the start line (16 for the Double Continues & a handful more for the swim events) there was no rush to get in the water or any uncertainty about if you’ve joined the queue in the right place for your predicted swim time! Due to the nature of the race, competitors will be separated by hours rather than minutes so gaining a few meters on the start line is insignificant. With a countdown from 10 the race was underway – the first two laps are completed without passing directly by the lap counters to allow the field to spread out. This gave me a chance to find my rhythm early in the water and adapt to the temperature. I only managed one open water swim this year, which was in sub 10°C water at Salford Quays, but felt the cold temperatures would prepare me for what I might experience in the race which was officially classed as ‘Chilly’. With the swim making up such a small proportion of the overall time, the focus is on saving energy and being as efficient in the water as possible – I took a couple of fuel stops to ensure I maintained body temperature and didn’t exit the water running on reserves. Fortunately the lap counters do a fantastic job keeping track of everyone in the water – otherwise, I might have been in the lake for a few more laps than intended. I exited the water in a time of 2hrs 41 which was inside my target of 3 hrs – this was a nice boost going into transition as it gave me the opportunity to push on with the early laps on the bike.
After a quick shower and a bowl of porridge, I was out onto the bike for the longest stage of the race – 20 laps of an 11.6 mile circuit. I settled into a strong early rhythm and got to know the course well – I wanted to identify the parts of the course where I could find free speed to help save the legs for the night. The target heading into the bike stage was to be at half way by the time we transitioned into the dark – I was slightly off the pace and had to stop one lap earlier then planned for lights and hi-vis! This wasn’t the news that I wanted after nearly 7 hours in the saddle. Fortunately, my support team were one step ahead; the suggestion from the pits was to head straight back out and get to the 12 lap mark and ‘break the back of the cycle stage’ before taking a shower and food stop.
The toughest laps of the race were always going to be the early hours of Sunday morning – the combination of a drop in temperature and lack of sleep meant staying awake on the bike a challenge. Most of the laps would finish with a strong coffee before heading out again – I was completing most of the laps as pairs with the occasional one lap burst to keep morale up and food reserves well stocked. Being my weakest discipline of the race, I’m always relieved to get the bike racked – there were certainly no exceptions this time, although there is something special about riding through the night and seeing the sunrise knowing that you might have to wait for it to set again to see the finish of the race. I had convinced myself that I would roll off the bike into my bed for a 20’ nap before a quick shower and then the run leg would start! This didn’t happen… whether this was as a result of my support team pushing me out onto my feet or if I came round while in the shower I’m not sure! However, the run started well and I soon found a pace which felt sustainable. I was pleasantly surprised by how my legs felt and had been well fuelled on the bike.
The main concern I had during the early laps was the weather – I couldn’t seem to get comfortable with my layers… although this was soon replaced by the realisation that I had at least 10 hours left to race! I knew I was hitting roughly 15’ laps and this soon became a big target which really helped keep my pace up! I had a few short breaks at base camp which were always a nice distraction from what was happening on the course – I made some good early progress and got through marathon distance in good time. It was only in the last 15 laps where I really felt my legs become heavy – a few paced laps with my support team helped me sustain the 4mph pace and provided a welcome distraction from the trail. As competitors in front of me started to finish and complete their last lap in reverse I knew I was getting close to that moment myself. People always talk about staying in the present in long endurance races… focusing on this lap and maintaining forward momentum. It’s always a mental challenge to maintain this mindset throughout and not be distracted or disheartened by the duration left to run – ultimately this just adds to the challenge and is what separates those who excel in these events and those who suffer! I was pushed right to the end by my support team – a target of 7:45pm had been mentioned a few times coming into the last laps! This meant sustaining the 15’ a lap pace and ensuring that any fuelling was done on the move; I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t fussed about reaching this target because I knew I was in good shape to finish inside my original target time & wouldn’t have to lap in the dark! Although his idea sparked something off in my head and, although not fully willing, I did push on and continued to hit the 15’ lap times. Making the turn onto the last lap was meant to be a momentous occasion – this is what you’ve worked for over the last 34 hours and the countless hours sat on the turbo trainer or in the gym in the lead up to the race! As I had on the bike and the swim I wanted to enjoy the last lap and was already deep in thought as to what food I would have when over the line.
The last few steps of the race were spent celebrating with the few who had been there to watch the race unfold – including my amazing support team, the race organisers and marshalls! As always, there is a massive sense of relief crossing the line – knowing that the hard work was enough to get you through and that you’ve joined an exclusive group of people. Going into this race I knew it would stretch me more than ever; that’s one of the thrills about going further than before! Writing this report a few days on from the race, it’s safe to say I will be back and I will go longer…much longer!
Thanks for all the support and donations! Will Stockton Instagram: will_on_tour Email: firstname.lastname@example.org JustGiving: https://www.justgiving.com/account/teams/willstockton #WillPower Double Continues Ironman 2017 – Avon Tyrell (New Forest) Swim: 2:41.48 Bike: 17:59.56 Run: 13:08.46 Total: 34:41.42 6th Out of 12 Finishers.