Standing on cold pebbles at sunrise, my goggles gently squeezing my forehead, I tried to recall a time I’d felt this nervous. I’d barely slept, felt sick to my stomach and my bones were quietly trembling beneath my wetsuit. But as I looked out over Weymouth Bay, the cobalt blue waters of the English Channel looked flat and beautiful, and there was something about being huddled between hundreds of fellow wetsuit-clad race participants – who all looked just as peaky – that felt oddly comforting.
I’d started training for Ironman Weymouth 70.3 back in April. I’d not raced in years and wanted to do something big to celebrate turning 30. I’d only ever completed a sprint distance triathlon at that point and questioned whether my injury-prone limbs would cope with the training load – or indeed whether I’d even make the 1 hour 10 minute swim cut-off time. Fortunately, around the same time, I was introduced to a fairy godmother triathlon coach, Loren Ward, leader of Cheltenham-based triathlon coaching community Passion Fit.
Her individualised training programme and calm and cajoling coaching style had suited me perfectly, and when I arrived on that startline six months later, while nervous, I felt quietly confident. I had evaded injury, my Garmin told me I was ‘peaking’ and I was now a regular resident in the fast lane at my local pool. There was now just one job left to do.
I was taking part alongside my partner, Zak, and good friend, Georgie, and we had spent the day before getting ourselves ready: racking our bikes, preparing our transition bags and familiarising ourselves with the transition area, which, handily, is only 250m from the swim start.
We were staying in an Airbnb in Weymouth town centre, around 20 minutes’ walk from the swim start at Preston Beach and 15 minutes’ walk from registration at Weymouth Pavilion, where we’d been on the Friday to register and pick up some obligatory merch. I’d really recommend staying in the town centre, especially if, like us, you don’t have a car, as that’s where everything is based – registration, the race start/finish and transition – and all within in walking distance. Plus, it means not having to set an alarm too early on race morning…
Race day started at 4.45am with a failed attempt at forcing down a peanut butter bagel. My ability to swallow had temporarily escaped me, so I had to make do with a glass of milk instead. It was dark when we made our way to transition at 5.50am but watching the sun creep up and throw violet-tinged shadows on the swim course was pretty special.
After a few last-minute preparations, we made our way to the beach. The swim start is self-seeded, so you position yourself among others with a similar predicted finish time and enter the water in a continuous stream. As I waded into the sea, my nerves instantly faded. The water was a pleasant 17C and beautifully clear (you could actually see the sand lying calmly on the bottom) and the ocean was still and peaceful. It was not the choppy and scrappy swim I’d envisioned: although the course is tight, it didn’t feel over-crowded and the clockwise loop back to the beach passed by with surprising ease.
T1 was also a straight-forward procedure – although, on the reflection, there’s a few things I’d change... I’d popped a jersey and a pair of arm sleeves into my transition bag, but in the moment, hastily decided to leave the sleeves behind, which I regretted in the end, as it was a little chilly on the bike for the first 20 miles. I also didn’t drink any of the water I’d put in my bag, which again, I regretted, as I felt thirsty on the bike for the first few miles, but didn’t want to chug too much of my carb drink too early in the ride.
The bike course takes you out of Weymouth town centre and into the stunning Dorset countryside on a closed-roads loop. The conditions were perfect – it was a lovely sunny day with barely any wind and the miles flew by. As I didn't have a power metre, Loren and I decided I should pace the bike off heart rate, which worked really well for me, as it stopped me from becoming lazy on the flats, while not over-cooking it on the climbs.
With 800m of elevation over 56 miles, the course is fairly flat – save for a fairly punchy two-mile climb at around 27 miles, where you ascend around 150m, and another short climb of about a mile at mile 52. The former tested my resolve a little, but I got my head down and soon ground it out. From there, you’re at the highest point of the course and the rest is pretty much downhill to the finish, so I tried to make use of this large section of descent to bump up my average speed.
The final climb was over before it began – all thanks to a gang of energetic locals who had positioned themselves at the steepest point, equipped with a speaker blaring out motivational tunes. I could then enjoy the lush descent back to transition, where I soaked up the views of sunshine-coated fields and the sprawling sea in the distance.
After a quick change into my running shoes, I was soon jogging out of transition and onto the run course. I was excited: I knew running was my strongest discipline and was looking forward to seeing what I could do. I felt super strong as I ticked off the first few kilometres but tried to rein myself in – and stick to my pace plan – conscious there was still 17km or so left to run...
The course is flat and fast and takes you on a two-and-a-half lap course along Weymouth’s Esplanade, lined with rows of pretty, pastel-coloured terrace houses on one side and an abundance of traditional seaside-town regalia on the other – donkeys, ice-cream sellers and white-and-blue striped sun chairs.
The crowd support was brilliant and I was delighted to see my mum and dad whooping loudly during my first lap – as well as Loren and members of the Passion Fit community – especially as I knew I'd then see them again on my way back round – and again during the second loop.