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  • Writer's pictureDarren Last

Thunderstruck - Ironman Weymouth 70.3

Updated: Feb 1

The 2023 Ironman Weymouth 70.3 was quite literally 'Thunderstruck'. Electrical storms, power cuts, choppy seas, wind and torrential rain meant that this Triathlon was transitioned (excuse the pun) to a Duathlon with the swim cancelled due to safety concerns.

Never ever before has the all to familiar ACDC tune of Thunderstruck been more appropriate.

The build up to the race had seen decent weather. The previous weeks temperature was in the mid-to-high twenties, and remained warm in the week leading up until Saturday, which started to see some light drizzle.

This was an event I had tried, and failed, to do twice over the last years. It was something of a thorn in my side to accomplish. Firstly, some years ago, I had entered but not been able to race as family and work commitments had deemed too much. Last year, 2022, I was due to participate but also had a build up of races deferred due to covid including the deferred London Marathon in October just 2 weeks after Weymouth. Logistically, mentally and training wise I had to drop Weymouth to give London Marathon full focus.

Cometh 2023 and this was an event I was determined to do. Third time lucky.

Travelling down from Kent on the Friday, I met up with with a group swim to recce the bay. That's the good thing about social media these days, there are community groups, such as Facebook for example, that bring people together. The swim that afternoon was quite choppy with a strong tide travelling from east to west.

On the Saturday the weather was predicting a bit more wind, though had started off absolutely beautifully with the sea like a mill pond. As the day went on the drizzle began, but nothing more than a gentle wind. Having completed the standard Ironman theatrics of registering, sorting and packing the ride/run/post race bags, then racking the bike in transition, I headed down for another swim late afternoon and the sea was much calmer that the previous day.

The swim meet up, calm seas, registration and the infamous transition bag assortments.

I was staying at a hotel on the sea front by the clock tower, carefully situated between registration and transition. That evening I had myself an Italian for dinner and got an early night ready for the 4:30am alarm.

I woke just before 4am. The wind was howling and rattling. Looking out the window into the darkness I could see the whites of the choppy waves lit up by the streetlights along the promenade.

The storm is coming.

I could see lightening flashes followed by the rumble of thunder, with each flash the rumble was shorter and thunder longer and louder.

The storm was here.

'Fecking hell, here we go' I thought. On the build up you are always checking the weather forecast on a dozen different apps, looking for that one that gives positive conditions and hoping the worst doesn't happen. It's wishful thinking, they are rarely wrong and this was bang on. Well, almost, the storm was starting a few hours earlier!

Having experienced pretty bad conditions in Barcelona back in 2021 I was ready for a rough swim (ready as can be). Torrential rain and wind not so much but it's the same for all.

I went down to breakfast at 5am and no sooner was I spreading the jam upon my toast the hotel descended in to darkness, along with the whole promenade outside. Power cut. Streetlights out. Fortunately it only lasted a minute or two but this was another level to know deal with.

Ironman delayed the opening of transition due to the storm so I headed out just after 5:45am to walk the 15 minutes up to transition. The rain was quite literally biblical. Hammering down. The wetsuit was already on.

Transition was flooded, my bike was racked in a giant puddle that could have classified as a small lake. I checked the bike over and placed my bottles and nutrition and took cover in the transition bag area (along with every other competitor).

With the race due to start at 7:15am I headed to the beach around 6:30. As the sun rose the rain stopped and it looked like we could have a good race to race. Perhaps this was the end of the storm. Not so bad hey. Get the storm out the way early and crack on. Maybe luck was on our side after all.

No, the swim was called off at 7am. The water was choppy but was ok (certainly nowhere near Barcelona). In fact after the first buoy it was far calmer. However due to the electrical storm, Ironman could take no chances, which, despite being hugely disappointed I understand (and the tragic events of Cork just a few weeks earlier).

As we were all down on the beach, all triathletes then had to make the way back to transition for what would be a TT start, which basically means you start on the bike. How the hell will they do this with all these people you wonder? Well, they did it by bike rack, which was set by race numbers. So the first batch were called, say 1-500, and then they went to transition, changed to the bike gear, got the bikes and off they would go. It would then follow 501-1000, etc etc.

The mood was pretty low, I was feeling downbeat with the swim cancelled, like many others. It just didn't feel right, standing around in your wetsuit waiting to go off on the bike. The race began as usual with Thunderstruck/ACDC and the MC trying to get everyones spirits up but quite frankly fell on deaf ears.

As the sun came up the rain stopped but choppy(ish) seas.

Before long my number was getting called up to start and I got changed and waded through the puddles to fish my bike off the rack and head to the start line. My race was about to start. My duathlon. Not a triathlon. A duathlon.

I set off around 8am, turning left/east along the promenade for the 90km bike leg. Before long, the first climb arrived at White Horse Hill, but it's nothing too big, gets the legs going and is a good opportunity to get some nutrition. Just watch the gels....

My biggest problem coming in the form of a gel. Im used to gels, I don't particularly like them but who does. I had this SIS gel early on and straight away just churned my stomach making me feel physically sick. Was it out of date? Dodgy? Or just me? Regardless, gels were off the menu for the rest of the race. I had tailwind, pancakes and other bits and bobs so wasn't to concerned.

The rain had stopped but the roads were wet an slippery. There were plenty of sections to pick ups some speed on the aero bars along with some steady climbs. Upon hitting the halfway mark you could feel the rain was starting to come, teasing, few heavy drops then nothing. Just hoped to get the bike over before the downfall comes. As a fair weather cyclist, I'm after sunshine all the way.

There is one big climb on the bike route, it comes at 62km/39 miles. It's 1.5 miles with sections hitting almost 20% gradient. It starts with a small climb and then a short descent into the big one. It was pretty tough but dropped the gears, found the GRIT and dug in. It seemed to go on forever, as these things do, but I knew that once up top it was a descent all the way back in to Weymouth for the remaining third of the ride (albeit one very short sharp climb a few miles/km from the end).

Once up the top of the hill there was relief. Relief was replaced with torrential monsoon like rain. This storm hit and it was biblical. This is where the fun really started. The descents from here were amazing. I loved it. Maximising the aero bars for speed but also for weight to stay on.

Sight barely visible from the rain so trying to catch a view between the glasses and the helmet. It was at this point that I REALLY started enjoying this race. Like a kid again, a roller coaster through country lanes and hanging on for dear life but loving every second. Completely drenched, knowing you really should not be out in this but just made you feel ALIVE.

The wind would hit from the side as you rode past field gates, smacking in to side of the bike side with your heart jumping as you held steady. The views were incredible, even with the rain. The countryside, all picturesque, hazy and wet from the monsoon rain, but absolutely amazing.

The rain got harder (if possible) coming back into transition and I was thankful now to get off in one piece. It was so dangerous on those roads and the last thing I wanted was to come off now. My bike time was just over 3 hours. Given the conditions and my fairly sporadic bike training I was very happy with this (strava link for those wanting the route elevation).

Rain lashing down for the last third or the race compared to the early stage.

I racked the bike back, in my puddle (or small lake), put on the runners and hit the roads for run leg. I was looking forward to this now. The run is never a chore and and always a joy and the rain matters not.

The run takes you to the left, along the road to the far end of the bay where you turn and head back all the way along the promenade, to the centre of Weymouth and the Pavilion, aka the eventual finish line. You then circle the road back round where you pass transition for the first of two loops to then tread the infamous red carpet of the finish line.

My intention was to run a steady pace at 5:00/km and see what was left at the end, I felt pretty good but you never know when you hit the run. The last few 70.3 races I have done have been sweltering hot causing different things to deal with but I certainly wasn't getting that today.

First lap and a half went well, I was well hydrated and nutrition on the bike worked as the body and legs felt good. It was great running down the promenade, dead flat, crowds cheering and the torrential rain flooding the pavements. There is something enjoyable about running in the rain. Much like i mentioned earlier, brings something out in you that makes you feel wonderful. When the going gets tough and all that.....

Rain lashing down for the run at Ironman Weymouth

The final lap was soon upon me and pace was sticking. The legs were starting to feel heavy and heavier, but there was enough in the tank. Rain was lashing down. No changes in weather, jeez was atrocious weather. Everyone was drenched. Supporters were fantastic, volunteers likewise. Tough day all round. I had never seen so many dry robes.

As I approached the red carpet and the finish line I just wanted the day done. It was a complete washout but had gone pretty well all things considered. I crossed the line and headed towards the tent to get changed in to some needed dry clothes.

I then wearily took my flip flopped duck feet back to transition, collected the bike, got a shower and began the almost 4 hour drive back to Kent.

A good day, could have been a great day were it not for the 'Thunderstruck' swim, but very memorable and enjoyable none-the-less. Would definitely recommend and would love to come back and race in better conditions.

The finish line - Ironman Weymouth

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