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Trust the process and your time will come! by Rob Marshall

So, I did the new format Ironman Bolton 70.3. No longer a full distance tri, revamped by Ironman for 2024 but only the shorter distance; as if ‘shorter’ is the correct description, 70.3 is still a good shift to put in! Not quite sure why Ironman cut the full, but it became just one of those rolls of the dice that worked in my favour. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be sat writing this race report. It’s not really a race report, it’s emotional ramblings for what has turned into the start of an epic journey for me and my No.1 fan, Lady O.

My writing of the journey will start in Mallorca, not Bolton, but quite probably started way before that, maybe Kona, maybe Tenby. Probably Ironman Wales 2022. Yes, Tenby 2022! We went to support the OTCF family taking part. I recall going to the awards ceremony which included slot allocations for the IM World Champs in 2023 in Kona, Hawaii. It turned into one of the most emotional days of my life, seeing my friends one after another getting awarded with their well-earned World Championship slot to go to the mecca of triathlon. I’ve never felt so proud of our clubs’ achievements that weekend. We, Lady O and I, were lucky enough to be invited to go along to Kona as support crew. We spent 10 amazing days away supporting our fantastic athletes. It brought it home to me; how really achievable this could be for all of us long distance triathletes. Ok, so if you are top of your game, you earn that right, and it’s more likely. But also, something I always remember Mel told me, if the dice roll in your favour, it could be any of us on the start line. But you have to put in the training, trust the process, and your time may come. I can’t confess to ‘having a dream’, I just thought if it happens, it happens. If not, I know I will have tried.

Ironman then moved the goalposts. They split the WC races as we all know. Kona moved slightly farther away for me. Nice didn’t have the same attraction for me, not least, was I capable of completing that course! I just accepted it probably wouldn’t happen for me as my body aged (probably also giving a sigh of relief!) but I didn’t lose any sleep. Just moved on.

Roll forward to May 2024, and now we are in Mallorca. If you want my advice, when you’re looking for a Long-Distance race, go abroad for it! Mallorca 70.3 was a fantastic week away racing with the OTCF family in an ideal location. Super hotel overlooking the transition area and a short stroll to registration and the finish line. You could not want for a race with better logistics; we’ll contrast that to Bolton later. I did OK in Mallorca, a good swim and run and reasonable overall time, and 57th in Age-Group. Nothing that would challenge for a WC slot, but I was happy. I wasn’t that fussed about going to the awards ceremony but everyone else in the party were going so I tagged along. Those ceremonies can be protracted but can also be inspiring. I recall the 75+ age categories accepting IM WC 70.3 slots to New Zealand, of all places. Maybe that’s when my time will come if I can keep going that long. As the slot allocations went on for each age category it was noticeable that more and more were rolling down the order into finishing positions not too far from my own position. I started to take more notice of the proceedings. It was the turn for 55-59, my age

category (yes, I really am that old physically!). The first 20 names rolled by and only 2 places

claimed. The infamous question came from the host ‘anyone else in the room, in this age category, wants to go to NZ for the IM WC 70.3?’. My hand shot up! Bugger the expense, this was a once in a lifetime chance and I want it! Alas, the dice didn’t roll for me on this occasion, I missed out by two places! I wasn’t too disappointed but did linger on it a short while about what could have been. It got me excited, so close, yet not even sure how far away! I came back from Mallorca still mulling over what could have been. Should I have another shot it? Why not? Nothing to lose. I researched IM 70.3 events in the next couple of months. Swansea was full. The Weymouth swim freaks me out a bit, but the new format Bolton was only 80% full. I entered there and then before I’d even looked at the course or the logistics of the event. I saw Steve and told him I wanted another shot at getting a slot

for NZ. Don’t know if he thought I was mad, I did? Pipe dream! Steve believed and encouraged.

I had to just trust the process and hope that those dice can roll in my favour, and my time may come!

I knew it was going to be a big ask. I knew I wasn’t good enough for automatic qualification but believed in the roll of the dice. I knew the event was late in the IM WC qualification season, maybe a lot of athletes had already qualified, and the slots would roll my way; I was going to need lots of stars to align, but also had to do my best on the day to be in with a sniff.

Bolton! My advice, don’t ever plan this as your ‘A’ race. Use it to train for a full, or if there’s nothing else left out there, as was my case. I categorise IM Bolton 70.3 in two distinct parts. The race logistics, and the race itself. One is much easier than the other, the reader can deduce which is which!

The race logistics, 2 key things to be aware of – it’s a split transition, 15 miles between T1 and T2 – it starts at 6.15am in the morning. The cruellest thing about being a triathlete is the early morning starts, or lack of sleep prep before the race. Neither of these I’d realised or considered before I’d signed up. If I’d researched properly, I may have dismissed it. Maybe not researching, was just a ‘star aligning’?

I won’t go into the planning involved for getting to race day, but happy to talk to anyone who’s thinking of entering it, about how I did it. It gave me some headaches leading up to race day!

Race week wasn’t good for me! There’d been some dark clouds about during the week and my head certainly wasn’t in the game. I didn’t train much. Thursday before race day, I was pulling out, I was having a break away from it, I just couldn’t focus on it properly. In typical ‘man-style’, I didn’t talk about things, just closed shop, life in that moment had become a struggle. Too much going on and couldn’t prioritise things clearly. But, it’s strange how what appear to be insignificant things can make you see things differently and allow just one or two rays of sunshine through those dark clouds. A WhatsApp and few words of encouragement from a team-mate, an exchange of comments with a Pro Triathlete, and a read-up of a team mates recent race report. Just a few small things and I was back in the room. Were these more stars aligning?

I didn’t write this really to talk about the race. I think most of those who’ve managed to read this far know how to race a triathlon. Swim, get changed, Bike, get changed, Run. I can’t tell anyone how to do it any better, you have to just do what you believe is right for you. Ironman have done a great job at revamping this race to a 70.3. The swim is the same location at Pennington Flash, I managed to sneak almost to the front of the starting pens. I still passed numerous swimmers, clearly not self- seeding correctly. Probably wanting to be back in time for the England game! Another ‘star alignment’ moment! What if, everyone in my age category goes straight home to watch the football and I’m the only one at the slot allocations? Boom! Dream-on!

The bike course has changed, it’s more forgiving than the 2-loop full distance, but still quite testing on some harsh road surfaces with some sneaky out and back climbs. I recorded 2500 feet of climbing. But, no Sheephouse Lane and no fancy dress supporters to pull you up that climb. Now it’s two laps close to Pennington Flash, a lumpy and bumpy ride up to Bolton, then two loops between Horwich and Bolton; undulating but fast. An impressive sight with TT racers both sides of the highway. Watch out for the two out and backs which sap your lags at 40 and 50 miles.

There’s no doubt the people of Bolton still embrace Ironman, despite the shortened course. The run course is still the same, but still lined all along the route with supporters. I was thankful to have the ‘Uncle Rob’ support crew in attendance. It means so much to see familiar faces shouting your name. Thanks to Maeve for the ‘Power Ups’!

What do we all think about on a Long-Distance race? My mind wanders all over the place. In the swim, I couldn’t decide if it was cold or not. Aaron asked me that after the race. I remember thinking about it on the return swim, but couldn’t decide if it was or not. Why was he wearing a purple hat? Oh yeh, maybe he’s in a relay team. Why are they swimming so slow? Lied about the self-seeding position? I heard a guy before the start say, ‘It’s not a lake, it’s flooded land! There’s a farm down there!’ I hope they got out before it flooded. Why am I hitting every buoy? It’s just the racing line! Why has he got his trainers on, on the bike? Fast swimmer, poor cyclist! Snap! I wonder if Hello fresh has been delivered yet? Did Amanda, the cat sitter, put it in the fridge? There are some grim streets in this area! Couldn’t live here, too far from water! Did Lindsay get back on the supporter’s bus OK? Hope so! Who’s Kieron? Why has he got so many supporters at every turn?

Young and good looking maybe? But, not as good as me! See ya! Oh, there’s Gary! Best running style! If you know, you know!

Letting your mind wander helps pass the time, I think. 5 hours 33 mins seemed to pass in no time at all, it seemed more like, well, 5½ hours! I crossed the finished line, and as usual milked the red-carpet experience. Alas, Paul Kaye was on his break so didn’t get to hear his dulcet tones calling out my name. Every race experience can’t be perfect, I guess? Had I done enough? I remember Lady O telling me I was 5 th in AG at the start of the run. ‘Steve says “get a shift on”’. I’d rather not have known; it just adds pressure. I’m more of a believer in ‘try as hard as you can’ and ‘what will be will be’. I was 1 st in AG out the swim, 5 th off the bike, but then slipped backwards on the run. I ended in 13 th of 67 in AG. Would it be enough for that roll down slot. When I analysed the AG results afterwards, I was only just over 12 minutes off second place! I need to race smarter!

Your time will come!

My race finished around noon. The awards ceremony wasn’t until 5.45pm. That meant hanging around in Bolton for the afternoon. I was conscious on what a long day it had been, particularly for Lady O, and did for a minute think about sacking it off. Lady O was having none of it, we were here for the WC. She’s the best!

Bolton town hall was full for the ceremony. This time Paul Kaye was in attendance and hosted the AG awards in his usual motivational style. Prizes came and went, then onto the main event, the IM 70.3 WC slot allocations. I had everything crossed. I didn’t know at that moment how many slots were allocated to my age group. The Female age groups were first. Lost of roll downs and transfers to other age groups. I took comfort in that, praying the same would play out in the Male slot allocations. We were there to see Remi claim her deserved slot. I made sure she had the OTCF vocal support as she collected her qualification certificate. On to the Male categories. The older age groups were snapped up quickly as entry levels were small. Lady O had already been stalking the audience looking for anyone who looked remotely my age group. She’d also noted that the three age group winners had already left. Were the stars aligning still? I started to get excited, nervous

even. They announced only two slots. My head dropped. No way would it roll to 13 th . The

obligatory 3-time call out to 4 th , no taker. Call out to 5 th , no taker. Call out to 6 th , doh! Only one slot left. 7 th , 8 th and then 9 th , and the last slot was taken. Yet again, so close, but still not sure how far away. I was gutted, even though I knew it was a very big ask. Not enough interest in the England football match for my liking! It wasn’t to be, but at least I knew I’d tried.

We had a plan and it nearly paid off. Six minutes and 35 seconds away from New Zealand! That was the difference between myself and 9 th place. I couldn’t have swum any faster, maybe shaved a minute from transitions. If I’d biked faster, would I have suffered on the run? I need to race smarter in future.

Know your position, know the time intervals to the next position. I was thinking all sorts that I could have done and was gutted I didn’t. Upset, I was ready to leave but then read a message from Sophie saying ‘stay to the end, there may still be slots available’. We’d come this far, a few more minutes as they completed the remaining age groups wouldn’t harm. The allocations continued with lots of roll downs and lots of untaken slots. Excitement was building again. They completed the last age group and there were still slots remaining, but it wasn’t declared how many. What would they do? They rolled a few to the 40’s categories, all snapped up. How many were left? They then announced 1 slot to my age group. The

auditorium was nearly empty! Please God, let no one else be here in my age group. As in Mallorca, those words ‘is there anyone here….’. My hand shot up! And no one else did! It was mine. I leapt to my feet and cheered along with a few celebratory expletives. I was invited onto the stage and accepted my certificate. I was elated, I was emotional. I couldn’t believe it, the stars had finally aligned and the dice had definitely rolled in my favour!

Lady O had said she wants a holiday next year without a triathlon tagged on. Thankfully, the WC’s are in December 2024. Christmas in New Zealand, can’t wait.

As always thanks to my No.1 supporter, Lady O, Coach Steve, Masseur Emily and Sports Therapist Andy for being there for me, and of course the OTCF family for their endless support and encouragement.

Trust the process and your time will come. It did for me, why not you!

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