Report from Howard Jeffrey:
My philosophy on running has always been to try and run as fast as I can for as far as I can without having to slow down too much ‘just to do the distance’. That is why I have never done a marathon but have always been happy to do halves as frequently as every fortnight because you don’t need the same recovery time. The trouble is I have got heavier with muscling up a bit for triathlons and also I seem to have just got older and although the perceived effort still occasionally feels the same as of old, I generally just don’t go as fast as I can. So what? You ask. Well I did see some interesting half ironman races in Euro and world championships and I asked myself what if I could get to one? You need to have performed well at a recognised event to be considered. Oh by the way the distances for Cleveland are 2K swim, 58 Mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run. In a few moments of madness last February I entered.
As it got closer to the date I had a nagging doubt about the wisdom of going so far out of my comfort zone. As I thought an ironman is completed by amateurs in reasonable shape in under 12 hours, that meant a half ironman (called the Steelman at Cleveland) would be under 6 hours. Just a question of pacing myself (i.e. slowing down just to do the distance). My rough calculations prior to the race were 2K swim, should manage around 40 minutes at a steady pace. Maybe 3 hours on the bike depending on the route, bearing in mind I have never ridden further than 42 miles and the half to finish I was guessing in just under 2 hours. Not counting transitions that put a target time of 5 hours 40 minutes. Oops, I sometimes struggle to even stay awake that long these days.
The weather was perfect, warm and still with no wind at all. The lake water was around 22 degrees and it was wetsuit optional. The hooter went with a mass start of a theoretical 250 competitors (that was the number of entries but the results are not yet posted so I don’t know how many started). It was surprisingly uncrowded where I was as I always try to keep out of the melee. I got into a nice rhythm immediately and steadily passed people as we progressed. The swim was two 1K laps and on the second lap I felt good but deliberately held back in order not to overcook it, came out of the water in 37.40 , on target. I took it steady through transition (had to help the next competitor out of their suit too as the zip had jammed) ate a banana (I can’t do gels) and put on some ankle socks for the ride and run. I had taken my old faithful Boardman road bike and not the TT racer as there are more positions to take up which I thought I would need during the three hours or so. The route was pleasantly undulating with no long or major inclines and mainly traffic free. There was only one difficult bit which is where they had freshly resurfaced with stone chips and it was a bit like riding through quicksand. That lasted for a couple of miles. There were two laps of the bike and I felt good at the speed I was doing on the first lap and the speedo was general hovering around the twenty mile an hour mark although dipping on the upgrades. That would bring me in around the planned 3 hours. I had taken two bananas in a bum bag and was able to ration them round the course (although they got a bit soggy and I lost half of one as it broke off: could be costly). I was generally overhauling the faster swimmers, although I was overtaken by a couple of younger competitors. I felt myself starting to weaken on the second half of the second lap and was overtaken by maybe half a dozen riders all of whom I thought I could catch on the run. One guy in a black and yellow vest overtook me and with the thinning grey hair I thought might be in the same age group. I could not keep up but again I thought I’d catch up on the run.
The run route was an odd affair with a combination of rutted tracks where the going was really leg sapping, single width dirt paths, tarmac paths and along the A167 in the road. There were two laps of this and you had to negotiate the other runners coming back along most of the same route so had to keep your wits about you, or what was left of them. I had sat down in transition, after 3 hours 8mins of biking (slightly off target) to put on my running shoes to avoid calf cramp and emptied the drink container and downed the last banana. I set of very steadily on the run with a view to overhauling the people who had passed me on the bike. I got into a comfortable pace and there were two water stations on the route which were needed as the temperature was rising. We had started at 10 and it was now mid-afternoon. The fact that you there was a steady, albeit widely separated stream of runners, you had targets to aim for all the way. I kept thinking I had the guy in black and yellow in my sights but the sunglasses were altering the colours. I got to within 3 miles of the finish and looked behind to see him fast approaching from behind! What? It turned out he had punctured on the loose chippings. I was the hunted not the hunter today! I tried to increase the pace so that he would have to work even harder to catch me which worked for about a mile before he overtook me. I had to let him go for about twenty yards before I thought actually I don’t feel too bad considering I am in totally uncharted waters so I wonder if I can hang on for a while. I increased the pace a bit and slowly hauled him in and of course he responded and tried to pull away again. By this time of course I had a head of steam and I much prefer the role of hunter. Having done the first lap I knew exactly where to kick for the finish and planned to be going at top speed as I overtook so he would effectively run out of track however fast he was. The plan worked and I scorched past to the roar of the crowd. He was actually 15 years my junior!
Anyway I finished in 5 hours 41 minutes with about 5 minutes of transition time so 5.46.10. You can only race the competition who are there on the day so I was first 0/60 by a mile. The others were still out on the course when I was receiving a handsome trophy and winnings which I felt I had earned the hard way and was in the first half of the finishers. Will I do another????