A Race Report, by Matthew Billing aged 30years and 8months

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I emailed my coach, Russ last week with my thoughts on pacing:

I think I will use avg speed on the bike, building up to around 25k/h. On the run I’m going to start at 6.20 minute k’s and try to speed up in the back half.

to which he replied:

Okay – go with how it feels too, remember how training feels and the paces you’re comfortable with

I was naive at best deluded at worst, here’s how it went…

I was staying with my boss Andy at a friend of his’ house (Emma) about 20 miles away from Wimbleball. I’d read quite a bit about the format here and the registration process was pretty painless, after dividing everything up into bags and taking them to the relevant places and racking the bikes we didn’t really have much to do apart from watch the rain. In the “athletes village” there were a few shops desperate to part me with my hard earned cash. i almost bought a pair of Oakley Jawbones, sense won over in the end, although I did buy a Craft Wind Jacket for only £29.95, a UK Ironman 70.3 jacket and some salt tablets, more on those later. I went and picked the wife up from the station at 3pm and got into a bit of a panic because I didn’t know where the station was, the petrol light was on and I was worried about getting back for the Mandatory Safety Briefing at 4. Unsurprisingly everything was fine. After the race briefing the rest of the afternoon comprised running around putting up tents and eating. Got back to Emma’s about 8pm, watched a bit of telly and went to bed.


Alarm went off at 4am, there was no difficulty in getting out of bed, porridge breakfast, and a 500ml bottle of energy drink and I was ready to go, got to the lake in plenty of time, did the last bit of faffing around with the bike, put my white bag into transition, got suited up and waited..

The Swim
I think I was most worried about this, I didn’t know whether I would panic in the water, but I had done enough open water swimming to know how to deal with it. I got into the water as soon as I could and acclimatised, let the water into my suit and started to get my face under. I turned around to look back at the shore and it was incredible to see all the rest of the athletes coming down the hill and the crowds cheering. It seemed like only seconds until the gun went off. I quickly settled into a pretty good rhythmn, not too much competition for space as I was quite wide on the right. I was sighting ok to the first buoy, but then I think it went a bit wrong. As we turned at the first buoy I couldn’t see the 2nd one, so I just followed the pack, about halfway (I think) down that side my garmin beeped to tell me I’d done 1km which worried me a bit because I didn’t think I should have done. As we turned the 2nd time onto the final leg I tried to keep the massive gatorade bottle on my right hand side which seemed to be working and I was swimming strong and comfortably, then I got cramp. First in my right calf, which I just let hang in the water which seemed to get rid of it, then in my left calf which I could not bend at the ankle, then back in my right calf. I was a bit worried then because my feet started to drop and I was struggling to keep going with just my arms. I came into the shore and couldn’t stand up and bend my calf out. Eventually crossed the timing mat in 00:45:49 and according to my garmin 2.29km!

On the run up the hill to T1 was nice to see the Wife and Dave clapping and cheering. I was really dizzy and having problems moving on my cramping calves. As I picked up my bike bag and went to get change, I got cramp in BOTH Adductors. Joy. 00:10:52 – ha ha!

The first 3 miles out of transition is hills, hills, hills, so I tried to spin slowly out and start taking on nutrition, unfortunately I dropped my bottle straight away and had to stop and pick it up. Started on my home made energy bars which were bloody lovely. The first quarter of the bike was fairly uneventful, was going along quite nicely, passing a few people, but the work rate was not too high, getting nice and aero and was really enjoying it. As I came down the big descent to machine cross I noticed my knee was a little bit painful. Got to the first climb and sailed up it, hardly had to get out of the saddle (27t on the back was an excellent purchase) 2nd hill much the same, didn’t have to get out of the saddle at all and that was the one I was worried about. Came down the hill to go up the 3rd and noticed an odd feeling in my back which turned into pain at the top of the hill, I stood up on the pedals and stretched out a bit and assumed the pain would go away. The next 20km or so turned out to be some of the darkest of the whole ride. I was slowing down because every pedal stroke was causing pain in my lower back. I managed to find a position, about 45Deg which didn’t hurt too much. By the start of the 2nd lap I was utterly sick of gels and actually feeling quite sick. I was even lying to myself about what I had had, I was trying to convince myself that I’d had a gel only a few minutes before, even though I knew it was time for another one. After the 2nd descent to Machine Cross I’d managed to get my average speed up to 23km/h which was ok, but at the start of the climbing I began to get really worried. I had to stop and have a stretch before the first hill, and getting up them all was agony. I was leaning so far over my handlebars to try and stop my back hurting I could almost lick the tyre (I didn’t, I’d definitely ridden though some horse shit somewhere along the course) the rest of the loop consisted of me trying desperately to work out if my average speed was going to get me in under the cut off. It was really lonely out there, there were very few people still on the course. I limped back into T2 in 04:19:38

After handing my bike to a lovely volunteer and grabbing my run bag I sat down to take stock of everything. I was so pleased that I had made the cut off, but was really worried about the run. My calves were really painful from the cramp in the swim, ditto adductors and my back was really bad. I couldn’t lean forwards to get my shoes on properly, so I had to cross one leg over the other, which kicked off the cramp in my adductors, round and round we went. Out of T2 in 00:04:25

The Run

The bastard friends and family supporters were all screaming and cheering as I left T2, so I had to run and look like I was enjoying myself. Stupid supporters. I made every effort to run properly, but it was a real struggle, I made the first hill out of T2 and to the lap start, and around the first km or so of the course. Then I started on The Hill even Andy, who is much fitter than me said he had to walk that one. I was becoming disheartened seeing lots of people on their last lap as I was 3km into the start of my first one! The pain in my back started to clear up and I started to get into a rhythm, albeit a very slow one. I had read so many race reports about “walking the aid stations” I’ll have no need said I before the race. ha ha. I walked every single one, it was the most wonderful respite from the pain of running. I was trying to keep taking on the gels, but it really was becoming a chore and in the end I gave up, I knew it was not nutrition that was my limiter, but fitness. I then got cramp really bad in my left adductor and I couldn’t figure out how to stretch it out, having been on the go for 6 1/2 hours already, my brain had given up on all cognitive thought apart from surviving to the end and repeating over and over again “Matthew, you are an idiot, why are you doing this to yourself? I told you it was a bad idea and you didn’t listen, never again” Over and over and over. I managed to get rid of it by wedging my foot through a five bar gate and leaning on it, you won’t see that in any text books. The best part of the run was along the Dam, not only was it very pretty, but it was flat, the only bit of flat of the whole course in fact. Back over by the lake I had some wonderful support in the form of the Wife who took it upon herself to run along beside me and keep talking to me which did make the time pass a lot quicker. As I started my 3rd lap it was pretty sparse out there, the few people that were still out on the run were very nice though, having little chats and encouraging each other. For the last little part of the run everyone was down before the turnaround spurring me on. Catheryne came right down to the turnaround with me, I was trying to keep up the running, but the hills just killed me. I tried to “Dig Deep and Finishing Strong” as Stu says to me, but I had dug to the bottom and there was nothing left. The others all ran up to the finish line and Catheryne stayed with me, I got my run back at the top of the hill and ran down to the finish. Coming down the finishing chute was amazing, all the family and everyone were screaming and cheering and I went through the line to collect my medal. It was all a bit emotional after that! run time: 02:44:41 I made up 5 places on the run! I passed 5 whole people! Woop!

Total Time: 08:05:07

Lessons Learned

1. Sight, sight, sight. If I hadn’t swum over distance, then perhaps I wouldn’t have got cramp and my race might have been slightly different. (although I forgot to take my salt tablets with me so who knows?!)
2. Push harder in training, I think I am guilty of not pushing myself hard enough and trying to improve, my average speeds have been fairly consistent for a long time now
3. Lose more weight. The end of the run was all big fellas, I’ve lost a bit, but not enough
4. I’m not ready to step up to IM yet. I need to get my fitness up, weight down and become the best swimmer, cyclist and runner I can be I don’t want to come across the line in 17hrs something, I want to get to that start line knowing I am in the best shape I can possibly be
5. Recovery – got to keep the stretching and rolling as frequent as possible
6. Be more thankful for my Friends and Family – For my Mum, Dad, Claire and Bez, 3 days in a tent in the pissing rain to wait for me, and everyone else, just the one night, but a massive commitment coming all the way down there and the noise they made for me was inspiring. And everyone on the texts and facebook, it’s nice to have that kind of good will and support


I am currently struggling with walking, the nice lady in the massage tent went some way to taking away the pain, but not enough. I am still smiling at what I’ve done, especially from where I started from. I felt a bit embarrassed during the race that I wasn’t as good as everyone else, but I know that was a dumb thought. It doesn’t matter what everyone else was doing, not to me and certainly not to the wonderful friends and family I had down there, I cannot thank Catheryne, Mum, Dad, Claire, Bez, Fox, Karen, Jan, Dave and Rob enough for their support down there, and everyone else for all their texts and messages. It means so much to have people behind me like that. It was certainly a motivator when I was struggling out there on the bike and run. Since Sunday I’ve had a few beers, a couple of glasses of wine, some junk food and I’ve really enjoyed it, but I know I’m not really that person any more, I thought when I got home that I never wanted to see another bike or pair of running shoes, but my memory has started to paint over the cracks of pain and I find myself looking forward to a nice long ride on a Saturday in the sunshine around the Kent countryside, and thinking about running along the pilgrims way in the warm summer air, I’m even thinking about those crisp runs in the winter air where your chest hurts because it’s so cold. I know that I can’t do all these things and do them well with a hangover or carrying around too much extra weight and these are the things that are important to me now. I’m never going to totally give up the beer or curries, but they are a treat rather than something to be done every day. I want to build a healthy, sustainable athletic lifestyle and I think I’m on the right road.


Pre Race Thoughts..

Have I done enough? Have I got everything? Will I make the cut Off?

I think these are probably the same thoughts every Age Grouper goes through before a race, I think because it’s my first big race these feelings are more acute, but perhaps not. I will have to race again to find out!

Have I done enough?

Yes, I have done enough, not as much as I’d have liked, and more than I could have ever hoped for a year ago.There has been a Paradigm Shift in my life from one of sedentary boozing to active training, although this has been a gradual shift over the past 2 years and is ongoing. I still miss training sessions even though I know I shouldn’t, I still drink too much most of the time and don’t eat the right food sometimes, but I can feel the difference mentally. I now have the discipline to remove alcohol from my life before the race and I think this will continue once this particular race is over. I have found out that ‘quick wins’ are not wins at all it is about effort and discipline over time, a change in lifestyle, a sustainable change in lifestyle.

Have I got everything?

As I have left it all quite late to get packed, I hope so, my kit list looks like this:


1 x Garmin – not going to bother with hrm strap as I don’t really use it and I’m going with pace and feel.
1 x Tri Top
1 x 750ml bottle – water
1 x Tri Shorts
1 x Wetsuit
1 x Mirrored Goggles
1 x Pair Ear Plugs


1 x Bike
1 x Shoes
1 x Helmet
2 x 750ml bottles (1 x water 1 x SIS energy drink)
2 x CO2 cannisters + nozzle thingy
2 x innertubes
3 x tyre levers
1 x pair gloves
1 x towel
1 x pair compression socks
1 x race belt
1 x pair arm warmers
1 x Bike Tool
10 x gels (inc 2 caffeinated) – Is this too much? That’s 1 every 20 minutes over a max of 4 hours


1 x pair running shoes
5 x Gels (3 caffeinated)
1 x tin Vaseline
1 x hat


Compression Top
Compression socks

Other Kit:

2 x Conti 4 seasons tires
2 large spare tire levers
Track pump
Massage Stick
Rain Coat (quite thick – altura cycling jacket, hopefully won’t need it, probably won’t wear it unless it’s seriously cold and wet)
Theraband for shins
SIS Energy drink powdet
Spare running top
Spare cycling top
Spare running shorts
Spare towel
Sports nutrition box with extra gels, bars, powders etc..
Garmin Charger
Chain Lube

Things still to buy:

Talcum Powder
Flapjack ingredients

Things still to do:

Make flapjacks

Think that’s it. Russ seems to think it’s pretty comprehensive, although I don’t have a Gilet – more money to spend!

Will I make the cut Off?

Don’t panic on the swim and I’ll be fine
I’ve cycled over 1673km since November 2010, I have put in the work on the hills, I will be fine
Once that’s all over, I’ve got at least 4 hours to run a half marathon. My first half marathon was in 2h22m in October last year, so it shouldn’t cause me too many problems, I hope

Beyond transition

My Coach Russ put the website Beyond Transition in touch with me and I sent them a load of waffle, much like this for their Age Grouper shout out, you can read it here

see you on the other side!