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  • Writer's pictureDarren Last

Ironbourne Middle Distance Triathlon - 19 July 2021

At the weekend, I undertook the Ironbourne Middle Distance Triathlon in Eastbourne. A 1.9km swim, 90km ride and a 21.1 half marathon run all to be completed with a scorching day predicted, one of the hottest days of the year so far!

Having booked this back in February, my thinking was it will be a good warm up for my planned Barcelona Ironman in October. Being a sea swim (like Barcelona) it would give me good preparation and help me find out where I am fitness/distance wise. I was in two minds with this event as it was only3 weeks ago I raced the Milton Keynes marathon due to COVID rescheduling and I wasn't sure how much of that would still be in my legs.

I was unable to travel to Eastbourne and register on Saturday so I needed to get down and register early Sunday morning. Given that the race started at 6am, I had to register before 5am. It meant leaving home (Gillingham) for the 1 hour 40 mins drive just before 3am.

When the alarm goes off at 2:15am you wonder what the feck is wrong with you. However, a cold shower, cup of tea and suddenly the body and mind are awake. I threw in a bit of toast and packed the bag with all the gear laid out night before. It’s pointless me packing it all the night before as my OCD would be unpacking it to check it’s all there (I still did this anyway 😉).

Off I went making good time. Unsurprisingly the roads were completely clear, devoid of any sane human being and, by the time I arrived in Eastbourne at 4:30am a beautiful sunrise was evident, signalling the dawn of what was for me going to be a pretty strenuous day!

I quickly found registration and got booked in, found my rack in transition and laid out all of my gear to then be told it must go into a 'covid safe box' that looked far too small to get much of anything in, let alone a huge tri bag and all of my other kit. Having said that the 'box' was way more Tardis-like than I thought, and did somehow fit everything in. Where there is a will there is a way.

The sunrise by this time was absolutely amazing. It had been a scorcher for the last few days and this day was due to hit late twenties degrees celsius. It was warm already and looking out across the sea with the sun rising was a sight to behold. I got a photo but it just didn't do it justice.

So, we had a dip in the sea to warm up and then started the walk along the pier ready for the jump off the end. Yes, you heard that right, we had to jump off the end of the pier. This had been a bit of a bone of contention. Let’s just say I am not a lover of heights and when you think of a pier you just think ' that’s gonna be high'. However, the organisers had tried to calm nerves by sending an email in advance to say that due to high tide the water would be something like 6 metres deep. Pretty deep, but begs the question that if the water being 6m deep was supposed to steady our beating hearts, how far overall was the fall going to be? Obviously, a question many people had, as the (most excellent) organisers then sent an email saying the jump was 6ft and had a video of someone doing it. Phew, that was a relief and one less thing to worry about but I understand for some still a concern. I was ok with this but nonetheless still full of nerves as I am before the start of any race.

I wasn’t the only one suffering nerves as a guy about 15 people in front couldn't jump. He tried, but just couldn't do it. We all felt for him. It made me think 'right, don't think, don't look, just get there and jump' my main concern was losing goggles or my mandatory nose clip. After a few more people jumped from the pier to start their racing they tried to get the guy to jump again but he just couldn’t get his legs to move. The support guy managing the jump was fantastic, he said 'don't worry, I'll get you in'. I wanted to cuddle him for being so supportive. My turn came, I walked up, held my hand over my goggles and nose and jumped straight off. BOOM, I hit the water pretty quickly but went down for what seemed an eternity. Not more than 6m luckily 😉

As soon as I popped up I was thankful that my goggles and nose clip were in place, my vision was clear and I was off. The water was just heavenly, the wetsuit is so buoyant, especially in the sea. It was the most beautiful day and I have seen more ripples in a bath than what we had here now. Off I swam, found the rhythm and began to enjoy it. It was important to be conscious of the current that we had been informed about prior to the race but the route pretty much had the current with you for most of it so was a very enjoyable swim. There was plenty of room and little collision with other swimmers. I felt good. I would actually say it’s my most enjoyable triathlon swim ever and completed the 1.9km in just under 32 minutes which I was delighted with.

I ran up the beach and into transition. Towelled my feet down, put my socks and bike shoes on. Helmet, sunglasses, half a banana and I was running to the 'Bike out'. A quick look at my watch and I realised and it was about 38 minutes. I knew I'd spent around 5 mins in transition getting sorted and only then did I realise how good my swim time was. It was about 7am at this point. The bike route was good, first 10-20km were main roads with a few ups and downs but generally flat. Gave a good opportunity to get down on the aero bars. Having bought a new TT bike at the end of 2019 and given the lack of races last year this was my first real test of the TT.

There were lots of other racers around on the bike which was good as it kept a motivation to keep up with a few. The route started to go down a few country lanes and less busy roads and I felt like I had found a rhythm after 45 mins to an hour. Being very conscious of the heat and the run to get through I needed to make sure I kept hydrated. I had a few gels, along with the Cliff jelly shots and two bottles of the SOS hydrate on the bike holders.

The route was fairly flat for the majority but had two big climbs at the end with Birling Gap and Beachy Head. I got to approx 75km and following a sudden left I could see a long train of cyclists climbing Birling gap. Here we go, cars slowing as the cyclists’ pace dropped with the climb. I dropped the gears and settled to a steady pace to get up the hill. It was at the point the heat became stifling. With no wind, heart rate increasing and the burning sun, the legs started burning as well. Fecking hard work. Eventually the top was reached and then a welcome downhill before having to do it again, but on a climb that was even longer, to get up Beachy Head.

This climb seemed to go on for ever, up in the clouds, nearer the sun, much much hotter, and the sweat was now pouring. There was lots of support from the crowd. Beachy Head is a fab tourist spot and a haven for walkers and runners. I love the interaction with others. You can't beat a bit of positivity from people to keep you going but jeez was it hot! This run was going to be hard. Once at the top of Beachy Head it was downhill back to the promenade, then to transition, and get out for the run. It was about 10am at this point and already there was a lot of day trippers making their way to the front. A few dodgy U-turns and pull outs meant keeping uber focused for the last few hundred metres, don't want a stack right at the last minute.

Then finally the run. I love the run, it's my favourite and, of course, the final leg. Two of the three disciplines done and one to go. A very hot half marathon. I knew that this needed to be carefully paced. Too much and I'd blow up, no-one wants to blow up in this heat or its gonna be hell for whatever distance you have to go. Stopping at the water stations would be critical to keep hydrated. I set off at a pace that felt comfortable, around 5 mins/km. It was marvellous. The route took you west just above the promenade on a gravel track to then cut down and west again on the promenade, a turn point and then east a good few kilometres all the way along the sea front, past the pier and a turn by a boat yard passing all the beachside cafes and bars that were starting to get busy.

Pretty much 2 and half laps with the finish right by transition. The first loop felt good, the spectators/day trippers were shouting encouragement, the sun was shining, the body felt good. Second loop became a lot harder, you could see the pain writ large on the face of every triathlete out on the course, the niggles and burn out of other runners. I was stopping for longer at the water stations, drinking 2,3 even 4 cups (and a few over my head). Couldn't get enough. I always enjoy a little chat with the volunteers. None of this would happen without them and they are so supportive, you have to enjoy and engage on these events. So on it went. Halfway through the second lap I was feeling ok, the legs were going the heat was pounding my head. Sometimes there was a reprieve when you ran through some shade and oh my god it was just a different feeling, you wanted to just stop and hide from the sun and cool off. It was only a short, but very welcome reprieve mind, and then BOOM, back in the relentless sun.

I got to the turn point by the boat yard for the final time. It's always a joy to know this is the last time you will take on a particular turn. As I headed back towards the pier I could feel the niggles, the achilles, the blister on the little toe, the legs burning. Was I feeling the effects of that marathon 3 weeks ago? It was a good question and luckily my legs felt nothing like the end of a marathon so I took the positive there and kicked on, keeping the pace steady. I was still conscious not to run out of steam.

As I headed up the gravel path for the last time the heat was so intense. It felt like a desert. No wind whatsoever here and a slight incline. It was the worst part of the route for me, but I knew that once I got through this it was the return on the promenade out west and then just one km to the finish. Ah! what euphoria! I made another stop for water and could see the finish line a few hundred metres ahead. The day was almost done and I was on track to finish within (my hopeful target) 5 hours 30.

I finished the run in 1:49 which meant an overall finishing 5:26. Complete elation!! I ran down the blue carpet, over the finish line and done. What a morning! The whole race had been thoroughly fantastic and I enjoyed every minute. I felt good, I was happy, everything had worked to plan. The training, the preparation, the graft, everything that goes into a race like this makes finishing so satisfying. Things do not always go to plan and you need a bit of luck on the day but you have to make your own luck and get the preparation right. Never under estimate. This time it worked and I was so grateful. Because, when it doesn't, it is nothing short of hell.

I drove home reflecting on the morning and the lovely weather whilst my achy legs ran up and down through the gears on the oh so slow B-roads back to Gillingham. I'm always happy after a race. Whatever happens, you have to deal with what is thrown your way. That’s what makes it all so much fun and, quite possibly, completely sadistic. But I'll be looking forward to a bit of rest before cracking on training in a few days.

I'll definitely be coming back to Ironbourne to do this event again. Thoroughly recommended.

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Aug 02, 2021

Fair play Darren!


Jul 29, 2021

Great effort we’ll done enjoyed the read


Jul 29, 2021

Great read Darren and we'll done buddy, awesome time!.. the hours put in beforehand definitely helped you condition for this race.. just wish I had your commitment..


Jul 29, 2021

Well done Daz.


Jul 29, 2021

Well done Darren! Good summary to what must have been a truly grueling day.

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