Alex Birch’s Ironbourne Debrief

Ironman Bolton Ironbourne Debrief

As many of you will know, I had to pull out of Ironman Bolton 6 days before the event as I had unfortunately come into contact with someone (my goddaughter) who tested positive for Covid. Having trained for this race twice without completing it I felt a little blue for a while but picked myself up and came up with a decent alternative race in the form of IronBourne, the inaugural long distance event organised by Tribourne Multisport Events, a company based in Eastbourne.

It felt a little weird re-doing the taper workouts, but 2 weeks after Bolton I headed down to the south coast, registered on the beach and racked my bike in the transition area located on the Western Laws, which was quite literally opposite my hotel. With dinner booked at Pomodoro e Mozzarella for 7.30pm (excellent food) I had enough time to take a swim in the sea to get a gauge of just how strong the current was. Entering from the same spot as the Aussie exit would be on race day, I swam up the coast towards the pier for precisely 15 minutes being careful to keep the stroke shorter and faster than usual. I then turned to head back to the entry point, making it back to the beach in precisely 6 minutes, quite a difference. The water temperature was around 16-17° and sighting off the pier was pretty straightforward as you can imagine!

Race day included both Long and Middle distance races and we gathered on the beach south of the pier in time based starting pens. My group was called forward at 6.40am and at by 6.50am we had started to drop off the end of the pier, a 2-3 meter plunge into the sea which was a fabulous way to start the race. The full distance involved a shorter clockwise loop, rounding back under the pier, followed by a longer loop, complete with Aussie exit, before heading back up to the pier one final time. Swimming directly at the buoys was not possible due to the drift but I found it strangely gratifying to take a diagonal line into the turn points. The only slight annoyance was a kindly swimmer who spent the entire race slapping my feet. So much for sharing the workload!

Swim 3800m: 1h 12 mins

On exit you run up and over the Wishtower slopes into transition and before you know it are saddling up on the road that runs alongside the promenade. It’s initially flat and fast but you need to be mindful of pedestrian crossings. A left turn takes you north and onto an out and back section where you get to size up where you’re at in the field, pretty neat if you like chasing people down! You then spend quite a bit of time on dual carriage ways. It didn’t sound great but at 7.45am on a Sunday morning traffic was light and progress was smooth. I was a little nervous about getting lost since the top of the course involves passing through one feed station 4 times as you navigate 2 smaller loops within a bigger one. While signs and volunteers are clear and helpful, I’d recommend you study the course carefully to avoid race day stress! One slight hiccup was my tool box lid bounced off and I lost one of my gas cylinders. Fortunately, the road surfaces are mostly excellent with the exception of small sections of the country lanes located on the western side of the course. In terms of climbing, there are around 4500 feet over the 112 miles, a good chunk of which comes in the last 20 miles as you negotiate the hills leading up to and away from Beachy Head. Be sure to save yourself for this section, it is a cheekily tough way to end the cycle leg. It was at this moment that the heat of the day (29-30°) became apparent since for the first time we were cycling at much slower speeds without the benefit of cooler, faster moving air. The drop back into Eastbourne was fast and exhilarating.

Cycle: 180km: 5h 33 mins

I headed into transition feeling well hydrated and reasonably fuelled for the run ahead. However, on dismounting I was soon to realise that my feet weren’t going to play ball. I use S-Works Trivent and while their Boa closure system is pretty neat it is easy to over-tighten, which when combined with feet swelling in the heat can become tight and uncomfortable both in the toe box and on the sides of the feet. Sadly, for me, as soon as I pulled on my trainers (with elasticated laces), I realised my feet were pretty sore and uncomfortable and from there on I was focussing on avoiding a DNF, which is a real shame on a course which is pretty much flat apart from a 1.5 mile out and back which you negotiate 4 times on what is otherwise a 3 x 12km loop. After a while I settled on a run walk strategy which I knew would be good enough to get me round, and as the miles ticked by I rallied sufficiently to start to appreciate the local support. It was a fabulously hot and sunny day and the seafront was packed full of walkers and friendly and encouraging folk cheering you on from the bars and cafes lining the promenade. Although my time was an hour slower than previous Ironman run legs I crossed the line feeling very proud of the effort required to just finish this race and treated myself to an amazingly refreshing dip in the sea!

Run 42km: 4h 45 mins

I loved this race, and if I had not deferred to Ironman Bolton next year, would gladly re-enter in 2022. The price is good, the organisers are friendly, the joining instructions are comprehensive, you get a hoodie for the full distance and there is a hot meal at the end, which you can pick up when you’re ready for it! In the end I was 3 minutes off a podium finish for my age-group (4th out of 22), which was a little frustrating, but Covid had ravaged the starting line-up such that there were over 50 “Not started” athletes from a field of 220. I’m pretty confident though that this field will grow in the years ahead and it would be a good race to target if you’re aiming for an AG qualification

Drop me a line if you’d like any further information. Otherwise enjoy your training and see you at track soon!