Preparing for the Ironman ride
20 Nov 2015

Preparing for the Ironman ride

My 220km cycle adventure / ordeal

The 24th of November 2015 was a significant day in my triathlon journey. With a half iron distance event lined up for next year, I wanted to have undertaken all of the individual elements before the close of the year, in preparation for having to do them all in one go. Several days a week I exceed the 1.9km swim distance, so that was a big tick. In September I completed my first half marathon, although it did take a toll on my knee. That just left me with the 90km bike ride…

I didn’t sleep well the night before departure and when my alarm went off at 6am, I estimated that I had only had two hours of sleep. This was the first significant outing on my new road bike, a 230km round trip from Worcester to my mum’s house in Melbourne, Derbyshire. Tired, I set off, using Google’s cycle navigation as my guide.

Bike navigation

The journey from Worcester to Birmingham was pleasant enough. Google’s turn by turn navigation took me via country roads through Droitwich and Bromsgrove. My first technical issue was my front derailleur, which wouldn’t push the chain down to the smallest chain ring, making big hills quite tough.

I arrived in Birmingham and got onto the canal system, which took me through Brindley Place.

Trivia: Birmingham has more canals than Venice!

I made a small detour to the Jewellery Quarter where I ate a pizza at a friend’s restaurant. This is where things started to go wrong. Firstly, my phone ran out of battery. I have a second phone, but it doesn’t fit in the dock attached to my handlebars, so I had to borrow some tape from the restaurant and tape the phone to the dock. Secondly the pizza I received, had very little cheese on it.

Trivia: I love cheese.

Pizza

Upon departing from the restaurant, things continued to go downhill, sadly, not literally. The phone navigation continued to send me on down canal tow paths. Upon leaving Birmingham the conditions of the tow paths deteriorated, from wide paved stretches to narrow muddy ruts. It began to rain, viciously, which made the paths slippery. My progression slowed as a result of the weather and the terrain.

The phone I was using is a Sony Z5, which is waterproof, so I thought ‘at least this won’t be affected by the rain’. I was wrong! As the deluge continued, the phone began to think that it’s screen was being pressed, rapidly, in various places. This caused the navigation to close, lots of other apps to open and then it started to ring random people from my phonebook, people that I really didn’t want to speak to! As this was happening, I was frantically pressing the ‘end call’ button on my Bluetooth earphones and that was when the inevitable happened. I saw the bike slide out from underneath me and I hit the ground, hard. I lay on the ground for longer than I should have done; staring up at the grey clouds and allowing the rain to wash over me. Something odd was happening to my face, it had formed a big grin. I don’t know what it is about adversity, but I relish it and I think that’s what draws me to endurance sports, like long distance triathlons. I didn’t know it at this point, but Google would keep on canal paths for 70km and I would fall off an additional six times!

Foolishly, I didn’t fit lights to my bike, but I never expected to be riding after sunset. When I was just 10 miles away from my destination, it was dark and dangerous and I made the decision to swallow my pride and ring my mum for a lift (the battery on the second phone was close to dying now too). I was soaking wet and covered in mud from my tumbles, so I ducked into a local pub to get warm and have a well-earned pint of Guinness!

Bike at the pub

The second day started off well. The previous evening, I had gone to bed at 9pm and went out like a light. I got up in the morning at 5am, feeling refreshed. I had put my soaking gear in the dryer and I noted that my cycling shoes were still partially damp, so to remedy this I used my mother’s hair dryer on them until they were dry and toasty. This soon proved to have been time wasted, as 10 mins into my journey the heavens opened once again.

After the previous day’s issues with the route, I decided this time to set off using the car navigation mode on Google Maps, but being sure to deselect motorways in the route options. This brought with it several other issues as, firstly Google thought I was a car and thus would use my readings to make traffic predictions. A slow-moving bike going down the road is assumed to be a traffic jam, even though the roads were clear an open at 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning in the small hamlet of Melbourne.

I initially went north so I could get onto the A38. This was a mistake as after several miles in dark overcast weather with lashings of rain and sleet and cars passing, only inches away, I knew that I would be better off using the cycle navigation route and of course it was only a couple of minutes before Google brought me back onto the tow paths and from there I started to make my way at a snail’s pace back towards Worcester again.

I thought my legs would be what gave out first, but it was the pain in my arms that began to overwhelm me as the aches turned into violent spasms, causing me to have to take frequent breaks and shift my riding position, often. It seemed like an eternity before I reach Birmingham, but when I did, the standard of the canal tow paths began to improve once again, although I was still having to dismount regularly to walk up the bumpy lock sections. Only upon entering South Birmingham did the navigation system again take me back onto the normal roads and from there my only challenge was the pain I was now beginning to feel in my legs.

I rang my girlfriend when leaving Bourneville, to let her know I would be about two hours. She offered to come and pick me up and I declined, fighting every natural instinct in my body to do so. When leaving Bromsgrove my second phone ran out of battery leaving me with no phones or navigation whatsoever. I was actually quite pleased about this. I was close enough to home to be able to navigate myself remaining 40 miles, but also by having this option of communication taken away from me, I knew I wouldn’t fold and call somebody to come and pick me up.

After nearly eight gruelling hours, I finally got back to Worcester. My average pace was a little less than 17 kilometres an hour. I had travelled 90km on the first day and 116km on the second, but this wasn’t the best test of completing the cycling section of a 70.3, half Ironman ride, as the conditions were appalling. I will get a better idea of what I’m capable of over the winter, on a turbo trainer, before putting it into practice when the weather picks up at the beginning of next season.

 

Day 1

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
05:58:06 04:35:12 90.64 19.76 46.08 682.00
hours hours km km/h km/h meters
Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance
05:58:06 04:35:12 90.64
hours hours km
Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
19.76 46.08 682.00
km/h km/h meters

Day 2

Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
07:51:12 07:04:34 116.81 16.51 46.08 534.00
hours hours km km/h km/h meters
Elapsed Time Moving Time Distance
07:51:12 07:04:34 116.81
hours hours km
Average Speed Max Speed Elevation Gain
16.51 46.08 534.00
km/h km/h meters

What I learned:

  • Always pack lights and high-viz clothes
  • Pack basic tools to fix bike issues
  • Pack a phone power bank on long rides in unfamiliar places
  • Bike fit is very important
  • Research/plan routes prior to departure
  • Have an old school map, just in case
  • Learn to read a map

 

On my journey I listened to the audiobook ‘Life Without Limits’ by Chrissie Wellington, a former Ironman World champion. This helped a lot, because any pain and struggle that I experienced during the ride, was anecdotal compared with the dedication and hard work that she displayed during her road to Ironman.