Elaine Garvican: IRONMAN Weymouth Race Report

Below is the race report from IRONMAN Weymouth for Race Team athlete, Elaine Garvican. Elaine has been targeting IRONMAN Weymouth as her A race for 2016 with the hope of qualifying for the IRONMAN World Championships in 2017.

The last time I raced an IRONMAN in the UK was 2013 and it appears 3 years was long enough to cloud my memory of just how unpredictable the late summer British weather can be. Like many, I obsessively checked the weather forecast and was incredibly relieved to see that the pretty nasty weather that greeted us on Saturday morning would not be sticking around. We rented a really cute little cottage near Nothe Castle – an auspicious place to stay we discovered, because during the 2012 Olympics, it was let to an athlete who won a gold medal for sailing! We were only a 5 minute drive (or roughly a 15 minute stroll-at-IRONMAN-taper-speed from the Pavilion) and getting to Lodmoor Park for racking and the start was also pretty hassle-free.

Race day was about as perfect as it would be possible to get in the UK. The sea was less choppy than many of the lakes I’ve swum in this year, the sky was clear and although the wind picked up throughout the day, all was calm and still first thing. I felt incredibly lucky, as I did my warm up swim – I’m such a wimp when it comes to being cold and wet all day, but I could not have asked for it to be much nicer…. with the possible exception of the pebbles on the beach maybe. A comparison to the Ironman in Nice was made more than once, and although the stones on the beach there are painful to walk on, they are large, smooth, cobblestone-type pebbles, not the smaller, sharp, gravelly stones we were gingerly picking our way over. I ended up with several surprisingly deep cuts on both feet, which took several days to start to heal. All in all though, if that’s what it took to ensure a pleasant swim, it was a deal.

Elaine on the scenic run course in Weymouth
For the first time in Europe, IRONMAN ran a 70.3 race at the same time as the full distance. The two races started concurrently, but with a rolling start, which on balance was probably better than 2800 or so athletes charging into the sea en masse, but with a slight bottleneck for the timing mat and the aforementioned issue of sensitive soles, it took quite a long time for those at the back of the queue to enter the water. Although this didn’t matter at all from a point of view of timing, it meant there were still a lot of 70.3 athletes swimming their first lap as I came round for the second time. In general though, my swim was boringly uneventful – exactly the way I like them! No jellyfish, no swimming horribly off course, no kicks or smacks to the face with someone’s Garmin and it lasted a predictable 1:08. I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that however much swim training I do, I never get any quicker. I won’t pretend it’s not extremely frustrating, but I am no longer surprised at the consistency of my mediocrity!

Transition was on the other side of the road, but unlike Nice, there were no stairs, and plenty of space for everyone to get off the beach and with decent temperatures forecast and no need for extra clothing it was a quick transition.

The Weymouth bike course is probably best described as “relentless”. It’s by no means the hardest I’ve done, and with only 1900m total climb, far from the hilliest, but with the constant undulations, corners, junctions and roundabouts plus the typically British road surfaces, it is on the slow side. My biggest complaint about the whole race concerns the first lap of the bike course, the entirety of which was spent passing one long, continuous line of 70.3 athletes. This made it more mentally and physically demanding than I was expecting as it required constant observation of, and communication with, so many other cyclists, as well as the surging required to pass. The second half, although feeling a bit lonely and now with a stronger southerly wind, was therefore something of a relief. My position on the bike was comfortable, thanks to the expertise of Mike from Bike-fit-co.uk, so with the exception of the climbs and where aerobars were not permitted for safety reasons, I was able to stay tucked.

Celebrating at the finish line!

I knew there were still several girls in front of me, and I’d hoped to be able to close the gap slightly more in the closing stages of the bike, but back at T2 after 5hrs 54, I was about 13 minutes down, and only 3rd in my age group. I wasn’t sure if I’d biked too conservatively, if those ahead had ridden too hard, or how successfully I would be able to run them down, but I was ready to find out.

The run is 4 ½ laps on the promenade, round the slight curve of the seafront, so it’s not until the 5th time you circle the Pavilion at the western end that you finally get to run down the red carpet. There was a noticeable headwind in that direction too, but this was countered by the fact that running towards the far turnaround (where we collected our coloured lap bands) there were few landmarks to give you an idea of how (increasingly it seemed!) far away it was. Added to this, on my first two laps, the 70.3 turnaround point was still tauntingly in place, to rub your nose in the fact that 3 times as many athletes had made a far more sensible decision concerning what distance to race.

Without meaning to moronically state the obvious, a marathon is a long way and in an Ironman, the first half of that is mostly spent settling in, exercising some patience and taking in as much nutrition as you can. All of which I managed fairly well. Then the Tri Training Harder coaches on course started giving me time splits and the girls ahead started coming back to me. At about half way, I caught Jo Carritt and ran with her for 5k or so. Then it was time to start hurting. With two girls still ahead of me in my age group, it was a case of disengaging my head from my increasingly weary legs and running with my heart. With the gap still in the region of 6 minutes, I’m not sure anyone yet believed it was possible, but as my pace picked up, that of the girls ahead was dropping and the shouts of my supporters became increasingly excited – and insistent that I run even harder! As I collected my final lap band, the marshals told me I was in 3rd and that 2nd place was only 2 minutes ahead. Just under 5k to make up just under 2 minutes – a tough gap, but one I would do everything I could to close down. I didn’t even glance at my Garmin, I just ran as fast as I could until just as I approached the final loop around the pier, with about 300m to go, there she was. I took a deep breath and overtook with all the appearance of speed and stamina I could muster, all the while terrified that she would come back with a faster sprint. Until I was meters away from the finish line, I didn’t allow myself to believe I could hold on, and I didn’t let up.

Making the most of the red carpet
I crossed the line 2nd female, only 2 minutes back from 1st. Crucially though, I had won my age group, as with all female age groups having been allocated just a single slot for the 2017 World Championships, qualification required nothing less. I had a short lie down, because all of a sudden the effort of running a 3:23 marathon caught up with me, but I was swiftly and miraculously revived when they mentioned the podium celebrations and asked was I able to throw some champagne around? Most definitely. That was a bucket list experience which was probably the highlight of my weekend. Coming a close second the following day was collecting a trophy for 2nd female and another for the Age Group win, before officially accepting my Kona slot for next year.

This will be my 3rd time on the Big Island. Knowing what’s in store only makes it feel even more exciting.

There are several people to whom I owe a big Thank You for their help before and during this race, including:

Mike Taylor (Bridgtown Bike and Bike-fit.co.uk): Thank you for lending me the slick-looking Boardman and for developing a comfortable, sustainable, aerodynamic position;

HIGH5: Thanks for keeping me fueled and fueling my recovery in a delicious way;

Gordon, Mark, Helen, Paul, Sharon and Andrea at The Bosworth Clinic: You had a vision of a stronger, faster, better adapted athlete and your physical, nutritional and psychological help have been invaluable;

Skechers Performance: Fastest female marathon of the day and no blisters!

Everyone at Tri Training Harder: Thank you for your company during training and socially, your support, your jokes and the wonderful sense of family;

My coach, Philip Hatzis: I cannot be the easiest athlete to put up with, but your patience and professionalism continue to inspire me to work hard for you;

My husband: As ever, my biggest fan and most loyal supporter.