‘A Season of two Halves and Halfs’ - Ben Bridges
I’ve spent a few years as a club member enviously reading the exploits of so many of you awesome athletes, thinking that I hadn’t really done anything noteworthy to write about. So I had to change all of that. Not just so I had something to write about but it does help!
I actually had a few aims for this season. I wanted to step up to some longer distance races (half IM’s not the full – I’m not totally mental), I wanted to compare a Challenge event to an Ironman branded event, and I wanted to see if I could qualify as an Age Grouper. So I booked myself on to an early season Challenge event in Costa Salou, Spain and eventually found an appropriate Ironman event as well.... it was IM 70.3 Miami at the end of October!! In my defence I stand more of a chance of booking these exciting events as I can sell them as a sunny holiday to my wife.
I couldn’t have dreamed of a better winter of solid training to put me in a good place for the race in Spain. Everything had gone to plan and I was feeling superb. I have to say I really enjoyed the personal touches of a Challenge event. It did feel a little like a family, from the bag collection to the athlete briefing, it was informal and relaxed but thorough and I felt fully prepared come race day. Plus I got a nice new free T-shirt, and I never buy clothes so always wear these!!
The weather was unseasonably warm and come race day it was looking to hit high 20’s with no wind. You can’t really prepare for that in the UK but I was feeling good so hoped that the weather wouldn’t be too much of a factor. At 6am my wave was off. The swim was wetsuit legal and the sea was as flat as a pond. It was genuinely one of the most pleasurable swims I’ve ever had. It was so picturesque and seemed effortless (thanks Tom and the man’s feet I stuck to for the majority of the swim!). I exited the water after 28 mins but the run up the beach to transition is added so in total it was 32:15, a good start I thought. Out on the bike the course was a basic out and back, billed as flat and fast. It was reasonably flat but there were definitely lumps and bigger out there. I got to 75km quite comfortably but the last 15km of relentless pedalling were certainly a test of body and mind, as was urinating whilst cycling but that’s another story!! I made it in to T2 after 2:39:24 ready to boil myself on a windless run course. I was still feeling pretty good and I think I nailed the nutrition as well but wow, I had no idea a run could suffer like it does after 90km of cycling. I watched my km splits drift further and further away from where I wanted, like a train you’ve just missed with your friend already on it, waving mockingly at you! Still, nothing I could do so I had to keep on grinding/wincing. I eventually finished the half marathon in 1:33:15 giving an overall time of 4:44:54 and 19 minutes away from my AG winner (107% of their time) so AG qualification is a possibility but I don’t find out until January. I would genuinely recommend this event to anyone. It was so enjoyable and I have a feeling I’ll be back. I just hope it isn’t so hot next time.
After that I had a few decent races in early season but it all fell apart for me at the start of September. I picked up a nasty back injury on September 2nd and was unable to train properly between then and the Miami 70.3 on October 25th. Cycling was more reminiscent of the old ladies you see in the gym reading their books at the same time. Swimming was almost exclusively with a pull buoy and I couldn’t do a single run between the injury and the race. 3 weeks out from the race I was a probable DNS, 1 week out I was a possible DNF and my back only eased up 5 days out. I resigned myself to just finishing and trying to enjoy the experience. Little did I realise what was ahead!
So Miami is a fantastic place and a tremendous venue for a 70.3. It is based in Biscayne Bay and Downtown area, and the bike route takes you out towards the everglades. The run is a tough 2 lap course over one of the bridges to South Beach. The first thing I noticed was the feel of the event. The Ironman event just seemed more corporate and less personal. Even up until the day before the race I wasn’t sure about how transition was going to run and they never really covered it but you just copy others and hope for the best! The temp was once again due to be high 20’s but it’s the humidity that bites hard in Miami. I was dreading running the half marathon in that heat and humidity having done zero runs since the start of September.
The swim is in Biscayne Bay and although the early chat was that of sharks (thanks to my family and friends!) what they didn’t warn us about was the vast amounts of jellyfish in the bay. I got stung more times than the old people that think they’ve won the Nigerian Lottery (I must have millions waiting for me). Stings to the face, arms and feet together with the current certainly made it an interesting swim! I struggled to find feet to latch on to, as per my usual tactics, and got out of the water in 34mins. The bike was very very flat with one very small climb. I never really learn and really think hills would suit someone like me (similar to a shaved bird) rather than flat courses. I just didn’t have the power and although got to the 45km in 1:15 I very quickly realised that a strong tailwind had helped me along. I went from 36km/h to 26km/h once I got smashed by the headwind in the return. The lack of training really showed and I struggled so badly. Plus I don’t even have a TT bike yet. Just clip-on tri bars. I got in after 2hrs 49mins, which wasn’t too bad but I knew my legs were already shot and I still had the run. Survival was my only aim. I didn’t even consult my watch at all. Just ran to finish and It was horrendous! There were loads of aid stations with really enthusiastic kids helping, which was always a massive boost. It was actually quite technical with a long grinding climb over the bridge and back (4 climbs in all). I did manage to shout support to Leanda Cave whilst out there but the rest of the noises that came out of my mouth were slightly more incoherent and primal. It sounded like I was either deflating or two gorillas fighting or something even worse. I have never known pain like it and I limped in in 1hr 57mins giving an overall time of 5hrs 30mins. All things considered, as with any triathlete I’m gutted I couldn’t do myself justice in Miami but I have certainly been to the pain cave and back and have seen what I’m made of psychologically. In retrospect I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved this season and would recommend both races to anyone. I did really enjoy them both but for very different reasons. The Challenge brand pips it for me though. More personal and thorough, which helped a first time half iron distancer like me. Some awesome medals too! A hard winter ahead for me, with a lot more S&C work as well. I can’t be doing with these back problems for another season. I’ve just got back from Miami today and I’m walking around like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Even with all of that, I still want more and love the distance. You can still give it your all and just about survive.....
Also, as a side-note, as with most triathletes there is a long suffering other half that needs to be bigged up! I should just say that without my wife Mary supporting me, none of this would have been possible (definitely none of the photo’s!). She’s been awesome and may also dip her own toes in to Triathlon’s inviting waters next season!! On to 2016. See you all out there.