Elaine Garvican: Ironman 70.3 UK Race Report

Elaine Garvican, Tri Training Harder Race Team, competed in the IRONMAN 70.3 UK event last weekend and finished 1st in her age group. Elaine is currently training for her A race for the year which is IRONMAN Weymouth in September. Read her Race Report for IRONMAN 70.3 UK below...

Although I raced my first middle distance triathlon nearly 8 years ago, Wimbleball was my first experience of an Ironman 70.3 event. This meant an opportunity to look at a distance I was familiar racing with new eyes, and review some important general race lessons.

Pre-race interview with Joanne from Tri Talking Sport

After a good in-water warm up, we all got out of the lake again and lined up in our appropriate pens for what seemed like ages, slowly drying off and, in my case, eyeing an ominous-looking sky. I was making idle chat with those stood around me, when a guy just to my right let out an anguished cry as his breakaway wetsuit zip popped open. He was immediately convinced it was broken and no doubt images of struggling through 1.9km dragging a billowing neoprene parachute flooded his mind. His friend started to assist him, but both were panicking that the starting gun was more imminent than it was in reality. I noticed the edges of the zipper were a long way apart; as this video demonstrates, you need a helpful assistant to pull the suit towards your spine, or there will not only be too much pressure on the zip, but your shoulder movement will also be impaired. 

Video: How to put a wetsuit on

Only slightly hindered by his mounting worries and pre-race inability to follow simple physical instructions (such as “arms out, please!”) I hoiked him safely back inside his wetsuit. Such was his gratitude that he then enveloped me in a massive bear hug, which made me laugh and forget any of my own pre-race nerves. I’ll happily credit it with some of my resultant good fortune too!

Lesson One: Spend the time learning how to put on your wetsuit properly.

Lesson Two: Never be afraid to offer assistance to fellow racers – being helpful to each other is what makes our sport so great.

As part of the Ironman Swim Smart initiative, many races are now turning to a rolling start. There are pros and cons to this format, in my opinion – it allows people to self-seed, and hopefully reduces a lot of the anxiety and hence risk of cardiac-related deaths (definitely a good thing) but also changes the dynamics of the race slightly in that knowing where you are in the field is made more difficult. In retrospect, I lined up too far back, and as a result, didn’t benefit quite as much from a good draft as I might have done. There is still a lot of work to be done on my swim, as currently it still leaves me a long way down the field, and this was no exception.

Photo Credit: Huw Fairclough photography

Once out of the swim, it’s a long, uphill run to transition. Once onto your bike, it’s a long, uphill start to the bike course, and with the adrenaline pumping, it would be easy to burn far too many matches early on. I had my power targets and was determined to stick to them, so my mantra became holding back on the hills, and pushing on through the descents. There is only one significant descent, but it ends with a No Overtaking zone in which tri bars are also forbidden, for reasons of safety. Having driven the course with TTH Head Coach Alan Ward the day before, however, I was confident I could stay aero right up until the start of this zone. The resultant 72.6 km/hr was probably equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, but it also helped me leapfrog several other cyclists and earned me a comment that “it took quite some balls to come down that hill that fast” when slightly less brave/foolhardy (delete according to your own descending proficiency!) guy re-passed me a few kilometers later.

Lesson Three: Time spent in course recce is rarely wasted

For the remainder of the first lap, I was continuously trading places with a couple of other girls, who would climb quicker, but whom I would leave behind on the flats and descents. This was frustrating for me, as I am a good climber, and I felt that my power cap was holding me back. But as we started the second loop, they dropped back and although I continued to overtake people until T2, I was never passed again.

Lesson Four: An even paced bike leg will ultimately be quicker than early spikes in effort followed by a slow drop off.

I’d spent the best part of a half hour during the bike leg pondering what I would do about the fact I was wearing socks. T2 was situated on recently mown, but still quite lengthy grass, which was wet and I couldn’t decide whether running in my bike shoes would cost me more time than changing wet socks. In the end I went for the path of least resistance, and simply kept my bike shoes on until the change tent. The resultant 1:46 probably wasn’t worth quite such a lot of thought after all.

Lesson Five: Make a plan in advance and try not to become too fixated on soggy socks.

Onto the run, and this was the point I was looking forward to the most, as I knew my support crew would be out there cheering for me. It was also as a result of not having recce’d the run course and hence being in slightly blissful ignorance regarding it’s terrain. Sadly, 3 laps gave me more than ample opportunity to dread the forthcoming hill repetitions – this run course is truly brutal! Each climb did result in an equally steep descent though, and again I discovered a hitherto unknown skill for disengaging the self-preservation senses and barreling downhill as fast as gravity and my leg turnover would allow.

Photo Credit: Huw Fairclough Photography

Lesson Six: If you’re going to put in the effort to fight gravity on the way up, make it work for you on the way down.

The original plan had been an increase in effort and speed for each of the three laps. I delivered on the former, but struggled a little on the final loop. I did manage to run my way through the rest of my AG though, to take the win and finish 6th overall. All things considered, I am pleased with this result – Philip and I are still learning how hard I can push and we still have a lot of quality training ahead of us before my A race of the year.

Photo Credit: Huw Fairclough Photography