The recce of the course went well, the weather however was horrific - gusts of 55mph winds and hammering day with rain from dawn til dusk. This did not dampen our spirits though the atmosphere was still building around the race village as everyone looked forward to Sunday.
My girlfriend Sarah had taken the trip with me and on the Friday we met up with a good friend Chardy who was also racing. Chardy had come down in his caravan which he managed to get in the perfect spot and it became our racing tea hub for the weekend!
This was my first time racing at Wimbleball so once I had built the TT, I took her for a spin around the bike course. Everyone had told me that it was a tough course and the hills were pretty grim so I was thankful to my coach, Ben, who had me training on the hills every Sunday around the Weald of Kent.
Chardy then took Sarah and I for a recce of the run course, the inclines were going to be a challenge on race day but the tough element was going to be the terrain, it switched from road, to grass, to trail to a concrete gully! I kept thinking, flats or trails, flats or trails?
We left Chardy and headed over to our home for the weekend, we were staying at the Middle Upcott Farm B&B (www.dulvertonexmoorbandb.co.uk), run by Barry and Sue - highly recommend to anyone travelling down that way - made us feel like we were staying with family.
On the Saturday morning, Chardy and I decided to take a swim in the lake to see how cold it was...and yes it was bloody cold. The wind and rain combined made the lake very choppy and felt more like a moderate sea swim. Once in though the body soon acclimatised and we both had a good swim.
We then headed out in the van and drove the bike course again. What comes up must come down and this course has some amazingly fast down hill sections that Chardy and I were both looking forward to!
So Saturday night came, carb levels were suitably high after loading the pasta in, the TT was in transition ready to go, we had listened to the race briefing. I headed back to Middle Upcott for a slice of Sue's delicious carrot cake and started to wind down ready for my early morning call.
Race morning...up at 3.30am wondering if I had actually slept at all but was feeling good and buzzing ready for the challenge ahead. Sue and Barry were fantastic and got up to make us breakfast, even supplied fresh baked bread at that time of the morning!
We headed down to the lake and met up with Chardy, made a final few tweaks to the bike and got changed and headed to the start.
I made sure I got to the front of the pack and got in the water amongst the age groupers. The back of the pack started swimming so the gun must of gone, but those at the front didn't hear so we all just went for it...arms and legs everywhere. The first 200m was like being in a mass brawl underwater, but I just kept swimming, the chaos continued to the first buoy but then I got into a good rhythm, rough again around the next buoy but then good down the home straight. Swim time of 33.06.
Wimbleball course has a tough 400m hill to T1, my legs were still with me though and started the climb, a quick smile to Sarah as she shouted from the sidelines and I was away in to transition. T1 went smoothly and in 4.01 I was out on the bike.
I have put in hundreds of hours training on the bike over the winter and I was feeling good and prepared as I headed out on to the course. I knew I had 56 miles of undulating roads ahead of me with some fast down hill sections, but my coach, Ben, had given me great advice on my gear ratios which proved to be invaluable. I kept my head down and stuck to the power meter figures Ben had set for me which meant I was playing cat and mouse with many other athletes around me. Everyone seemed to want to attack on the long climbs, I stuck to my threshold power and soon passed them again feeling strong at the top. The first lap was over before it had begun and it wasn't until I was finishing the 2nd lap I realised I had overtaken some of the pro female athletes so knew I must of been looking at a sub 3 hour bike.
I managed T2 in 1.32, heading out on the run course for the final stage of this 70.3. I have had knee and shins problems over last few months and was hoping that they were going to hold up for the next 13.1 miles. The course was gruelling with changes in the terrain and nasty uphill sections that challenged the legs! I now know why it is regarded as one of the hardest 70.3 events out on the circuit.
The run was over 3 laps and having Sarah shouting out encouragement really helped in those final stages to push me to the finish. As I turned into the last hill, I dug deep and gave a final push for the finish line. As I approached the red carpet I looked up at the timing clock and thought...I wonder...could it be good enough to see me qualify for the World Champs in Vegas...
Although I had hoped to go sub 5hrs, I crossed the finish line in 5.15 which I was happy with considering the lack of run fitness after injury. It felt good to collect my medal and head into the athlete's tent to start recovering!
The next four hours just disappeared and we found ourselves sitting in the tent, waiting to hear who had qualified for Vegas...I am not too sure who was buzzing more, me or Sarah!! The roll down seemed to take forever, but finally my age group was announced and my name was called...I was going to Vegas!!
I want to say a massive thank you to my coach Ben Ward for all of his training plans and advice to get me to this point. Also a big thank you to my sponsors: CompresSport, Bonk Clothing, Solo Supplements and Pro Health Therapy and to Geoff Wiles and the Sunday chain gang. Last but by no means least my girlfriend Sarah for everything she does in the way of nutrition and motivational support and Peter Chard for making my first 70.3 experience one I will never forget.