With the Norseman fast approaching and very little racing miles in my legs this year I was keen on a long distance hit out – whilst there were some ‘big’ middle distance races available on the perfect weekend (5 weeks out from Norseman), notably Outlaw Half and the new Edinburgh Ironman 70.3, when I saw the amazing folk at Race New Forest had a ‘long’ middle distance with a small field called the Boskman, I entered before you could say ‘donkeys, cows and wild horses’. I’ve raced maybe 10 times down in the New Forest over the years and it’s stunning – my favourite racing venue and organisers in the UK. I love small races where you get to tap into the essence of our sport – a solo time trial effort with just your chimp for company (and the aforementioned wildlife to keep you on your toes). With a non-standard distance to fit into the surrounds of 2.7k downstream swim, 123k lumpy bike and 21k run it was the perfect race to prepare for Norseman – which due to the mountains and elements will take a lot longer than a normal Ironman.
The game plan was to use it as a 6 hour Ironman pace training day – whilst that sounds conservative on paper, untapered at the end of a long training block and with the small matter of 18x800s on the track in the legs from 4 days before, it was likely to feel like a fair effort on the day. In a small field of 70 racers I was hoping that might be enough to win the race, but when a fast friend of mine, Rob Arkell, entered the race last minute that added an asterisk to the plan – if Rob (a 2:35 marathoner) was within 10 minutes of me off the bike I would have to run very hard to hold him off for the win. Game on!
As hoped given recent good vibrations in training, I got away off the front on the beautiful point to point swim around a big S bend of the Beaulieu River (thankfully avoiding swallowing any of the thousands of jelly fish!) and built a good lead that I extended on the bike.
The bike course took us up into the north west of the forest, roads I’d not ridden before and it was great fun – windy, lumpy and bumpy taking in both exposed heathland and winding little hilly lanes in amongst the trees. Other than a close call with a calf that I didn’t see darting out from behind a massive brick outhouse of a cow at the roadside, and a pack of horses blocking the road that didn’t care much for me having to get out of my aero tuck to shoo them away, it was a drama free Sunday morning smash about on quiet roads. My legs and head tied up a little in the middle but caffeine gels sorted both out and a strong last hour saw me up above the planned 230 watts and by the end of the 3hr27 ride my lead was extended to about 20 minutes.
The run legs felt nice enough and Ironman pace of 4:30-4:45 per km was just the ticket. At the first out and back seeing my lead over Rob was 20 minutes was a nice relief as I didn’t really fancy a trip to the hurt locker to lift it above that! Rob looked fantastic but confusingly wasn’t making any ground on me at the later out and backs – it turns out he was running faster than me but a late dinner the night before meant his stomach was also running faster! 2 out and backs on both laps made for a great run course mentally – going past the start and finish area (up the nasty hill from the river up past Bucklers Hard!!) twice in each lap and a nice mix of tarmac and trails with some hills thrown in for good measure. As ever the last few kilometres hurt a bit, but I executed bang on plan with a 1:37 run, 5:45 overall and a 15 minute victory.
It has been a slower than normal start to the year for me on the training and racing front, but after some solid training and with a back-end weighted Norseman/Ironman Wales double header coming my way, it feels like it’s all coming to the boil rather nicely. Next stop Eidfjord on 5th August for the small matter of a freezing fjord swim, 4 mountain passes on the bike and a run up to the top of Gaustatoppen (that Norwegian for ‘sodding big mountain’). After a few years of chasing fast times and Kona slots it’s a challenge that has really caught my imagination and passion for why I really do this sport – health, happiness, training and racing with friends and scary challenges that make you smile and get you out of bed at 5am. I can’t wait.
Big up to Rob for keeping me honest in the race, James and the Optima gang for some great training recently, and an even bigger big up to Richard, Joanne and their crew of volunteers at Race New Forest. If you are an endurance athlete that hasn’t raced in the New Forest then you’re certifiably mad – go forth and enter one of their races immediately.