Niall Rees Woodward

Lessons from Ironman 70.3 Weymouth

This is a story of failure. I didn’t plan on sharing it, but I learned so much from the day that I’d like to.

I trained daily for nearly three months for this race. It absorbed my being completely. When I wasn’t working I was either training, or watching triathlon videos. The idea of not completing the race was out of the question, it had been my life for three months.

Friday the 21st of September: the weather forecast predicted 40mph winds during the bike section, an air temperature of 17 degrees and heavy rain. My packing space was limited as I was travelling via train, so I just packed an extra jersey to wear over my trisuit.

Saturday 22nd September: the weather forecast air temperature 10 degrees.

I arrived in Weymouth, and cycled straight to Lodmoor Country Park. There was already heavy rain. The signage was terrible. As a result I only found having arrived at the transition tent I needed to register on the other side of the bay first. So, I cycled 15 minutes back to the registration point, was given my race envelope and bag, then cycled back to transition to register my bike.

Later that day I realised talking with a more experienced competitor, I should have been given my timing chip at this point. I had assumed it was in my envelope and there were no signs indicating I should collect it separately. Lesson 1: Check you have everything you need before you leave registration, and if you don’t, ask!

Sunday morning I woke at 4:50AM and picked up two triathletes who intended to walk from our hotel and drove as near to the start as we could. We walked to the beach only to hear an announcement that the race start was delayed half an hour due to weather conditions, and the swim halved in length. By the time we were in the water, we had been stood for an hour and a half in 10 degrees, wind and rain. We were already very cold. Lesson 2: Bring lots of warm clothing to wear before your race start! If you’re cold before you start, you won’t warm up.

We entered the water with strong swell, but the water temperature was good. My goggles got kicked off within the first 200m. I managed to sort them out and carry on. The swell made it very difficult to sight as the buoys were obscured by the water. The water currents were definitely present, but very manageable. I made it out of the swim feeling fine.

Heading into the transition tent, the rain was torrential (as you can see in the photo). It was about 200 metres run from the beach to the tent, and the bike area was flooded ankle deep.

Once out on the road, visibility was ok, but there was surface water on the road, and heavy spray from wheels of other cyclists. I was wearing a trisuit and a jersey, no gloves or additional jacket. Within 10 miles I began to see people walking with their bikes due to punctures, accidents, and someone sat by the side of the road with a foil blanket shivering. I was cold, but maintaining my temperature ok.

My condition deteriorated quickly from here, with my hands getting very cold, I could no longer brake, and my concentration was drifting. By this point I was pedaling purely to find the next marshall and stop. Aside from my condition, I was here to race, but in these conditions, racing at my desired pacing was no longer possible. 7/13 pro men and 4/10 pro women dropped out mid race I later found out.

I should have brought waterproof gloves and overshoes, a long sleeve jacket and a waterproof jacket. Your transition bag is limited in space, but fill your run bag too if needed with additional clothing. You don’t have access to these bags on the day of the race, but you can make the decision on the day what to wear from your selection. Lesson 3: Even if the weather seems ok, pack for the worst case scenario.

Finally a little anecdote from someone I met after the race. He had called off the race the night before. I asked him why:

“Two years ago I entered a race with similar conditions. On the bike section I came off as the road was so slippery. I’m self-employed, and my injury led to me be unable to work for six months. I estimate that the total cost of my injury was £30,000. For a race which cost £250 to enter, it just isn’t worth risking it, there’s always next year.”

While I don’t regret starting the race, you have to ask yourself whether you want to risk it, and if you do, deciding at what point you will call it in. The training hasn’t been wasted, I’ll be stronger for this year, I learned an enormous amount, and I’ll never underpack ever again. There’s much to be learned from failure!

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