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Podium for Steve G at Half Iron Distance.

OTCF RT Steve Grocock’s recent race report.

A trip down South for the Half Ironman at the Eton Dorney Olympic rowing Lake was a golden opportunity to visit family and get them involved in a bit of support crewing. The superb venue (think Holme Pierrepoint at Nottingham but with a fresh facelift) was host to Votwo’s (VO2’s) ‘Etonman’. This event appealed to me as not only was it on my Sister’s doorstep but was billed to be one of the fastest ‘Half Ironman’ events in the country, a bold statement. I guess this boast was based on the strength of the cycle course with its smooth surface and pan-flat elevation that follows the water line around the lake. Both true, however, three x 180 degree coned hairpins per lap (10 x 9 k Laps), and the damp surface unfortunately did their best to contradict the claim.

The swim went well, better than expected as I grabbed onto a few quick guys’ feet and chose to save energy rather than any early race heroics. It  got even better for me when a few decided to turn at the wrong buoy and was stopped in their tracks by the kayakers making them retrace their strokes back to me, (for once I was listening at the briefing). Exiting the lake in 3rd place and in 30 mins was all I could expect but bodes well for the future when I pull my finger out and actually start to respect this discipline. First guy out of the water was a bit of fish and I was already 5 minutes in arrears!

What happened next was a bit of a shock for me as I managed to post the fastest T1! The wetsuit seemed to fall off and I was onto the bike in 59 seconds, even Coach Clark would be envious. The relevance of this time saving along with another decision to bin the socks off on the run would eventually prove pivotal toward my finishing position.

I’d been looking forward to the bike leg but yet again was torn between wheel choices due to the damp course. I opted for my clincher although not my preferred race choice. I thought getting around the 30 hairpins would be real heart in my mouth stuff with the deep rim so I figured what I’d lose in top end speed would be cancelled out by the better handling of the clincher. I made the right decision and although it took me a few laps to get accustomed to the tight hairpins I never felt it slipping underneath me. My decision was further justified, (and here was another stroke of luck) when the race leader did exactly what I’d feared I’d do, and fell foul to the deep rims, damp surface, tight corner cocktail!

So, within the first 6 miles of the scheduled 56 miles I found myself leading the race and could see I’d raised the spirits of my sleepy support crew. Angie and my sister were in full voice and my Brother-in-law enjoyed his task of shouting out my split times as the gap widened every lap. It was all very Grand Prix esque. I have to admit I did enjoy the laps and never got bored as the track soon got congested with slower riders so you were constantly picking people off, thinking to yourself, that’s at least a 15 minute head start I have on you mate before going into the run. My Support crew were indicating I’d pulled out a 5 minute lead on the 2nd placed guy with a lap to go. I didn’t want the laps to end. After one lap my Garmin showed I’d averaged 23.3 mph which never wavered for the next 50 miles.

I entered an empty, bike-less T2 and found myself leaving at a pace that was clearly governed on panic/ excitement. I’d also noticed my brother and his family had also joined proceedings so the cheers had amplified a further few decibels. The run was an out and back, four times, making each lap almost 3.5 miles. I got to the first turnaround point and noted the time on my Garmin. I was hoping not to see anybody for several minutes, but this wasn’t the case. After heading back for less than 1.5 minutes I clocked the second placed guy! Wow, he looked to be flying! I stayed below 7 min/mile average for the first 5 miles yet still matey-boy was putting big strides into my lead. At 6 miles the inevitable happened and I found myself relegated into second spot and things were getting worse! The  3rd and 4th placed guys were also eating into my lead and if I’m honest my head was starting to go, I felt defeated and I found myself already expecting them to come past by the next lap. My faithful support also recognised my negativity as I went out onto the third lap. A gel seemed to perk me up a little and I found myself searching for some kind of inspiration. I tried to put into practice those little nuggets of advice Clarky and Dean had impressed on me at Tri camp and although this would help momentarily the mind is a funny thing, when it’s decided it’s not having it, it’s not having it! Fortunately this spell didn’t last too long but It wasn’t until this giant of an athlete, albeit a lap behind me coasted past that I snapped out of it and got my act together. Another of Clarky’s tips of hanging on to the coat tails of the passing runners for as long as you can definitely worked in this case as I shadowed this man mountain for over a lap.

Eventually the finishing line was in sight and an unexpected extra 400m still wasn’t enough for the charging 3rd placed guy to force me into a sprint finish, just as well! As I said earlier, the ‘no socks’ combined with a nippy T1 proved the difference, Without this I’d have been too much of a dangling carrot and would no doubt of crumbled? My green trainer was now blood red due to blisters but a small price to pay.

I do have to recommend this as a first middle distance race. Well organised in grand settings, It’s extremely spectator friendly and the bike miles just fly by whilst enjoying the race track feel. Big thanks to the wife, my family pit crew and Off that Couch Fitness for all their support. Roll on the Steelman in July.

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