Race Report: IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire

Race Date: 10 July 2018

Peter Heron, Mersey Tri

RECOMMENDATION 5/10: An end to end report is offered that covers registration day through to race day to provide an holistic account. There were issues on registration day; no car parking resulting in long walks to the split transition bike and kit bag drop-offs which added time; far from ideal.  T1 and T2 were separated by around 20 miles of driving (doubly frustrating for those traveling from the south as they had to double-back on themselves). Race day; sighting issues with positioning of the swim marker buoys part way through the course and at lake exit. Section of country lane on bike course was badly pitted and although highlighted with spray paint was [in my opinion] hazardous for a large group.

Pre Arrangements

TRAVEL: 80 mile drive from Merseyside (Sefton) to Riverway (registration) and then on another 20 miles to Chasewater (to drop the bike of at T1), 100 miles in total.

ACCOMMODATION: If you don’t mind a 100 mile drive then in theory accomodation isn’t necessary but considering you’d need to do the journey twice (register Saturday, then again for a very early start on Sunday) then I’d suggest accomodation is a good idea!

You have the option of going through Nirvana accommodation bookings as offered by IRONMAN.

However, I opted for budget accommodation: Bridgewood House in Staffordshire town centre 2 minute walk from finish line - sheer luck - didn’t know that at the time! As an added bonus the half marathon passed in front of the hotel.

CAR PARKING: If you elect to stay at the suggested accommodation above, then remember to book a car park place. The hotel does have a car park but it’s small hence the need to book ahead. Otherwise, car parking in Staffs town centre worked out really well for me. Doxey road car park is free from 17:30 Saturday and all Sunday. Plenty of spaces and very accessible. As it happens, Doxey road car park is also the bus pick-up point for the bus service that transports athletes and supporters, from Staffs centre to T1.

REGISTRATION: Possible Friday or Saturday; at Riverway. Takes half a day to register including kit-bag drop at T1 and T2. Long walk (approx. 1K) from suburban parking place to Registration and both transition areas..

CAR PARKING at registration is non-existent! Very disappointing that for an event of this size that more thought wasn’t given to car parking for athletes. Road closures prevent easy parking access to registration at Riverway.  The only alternative was to park in crowded suburban streets nearby which caused massive disruption for athletes and local residents - far from ideal!

Parking at T2 (bike drop-off) Chasewater is also not possible due to road closures. Some motorists where inventive and moved road marker cones in order to gain access to nearby side streets! Even so, that still resulted in a long walk (approx. 1K) from parking place to T2. Doesn’t sound much but on top of a busy and sometimes stressful day with race nerves building, it’s a bit too much to have to put up with! For me, that resulted in insufficient time to visit the Expo.

Race Briefing: Rolling video played on a loop in a tent. Nothing covered you shouldn’t have already read or be aware of from the previously issued briefing notes.

SWIM>>> Entry to Chasewater isn’t done in conventional waves. Athletes self seed (position themselves) at the various time slot marker posts e.g. 30 mins, 40 mins, 50 mins etc..

Early morning mist descended over Chasewater which made it unsafe to swim and delayed the start - a nail biting 50 minutes! Entry into the water is by jumping / half diving off a pontoon positioned at the end of a short pier. On the plus side, there’s no waiting around in the water, but on the negative side, it can be a little busy on entry due to the melay of bodies bobbing around within the first few metres of the pontoon.

Entry point into the lake and exit point from the lake are at different locations - see map. The course is well marked with large buoys at beginning. However, ½ to ¾ way through the swim, as you approach the 2nd tuning point, 2 marker buoys come into view that appear (from the swimmers perspective) to form a funnel as they appear to be positioned left and right of each other (approx 100m apart) which leaves you wondering which buoy to aim for! The correct buoy to aim for is the right hand side one. After you’ve passed that, it then becomes apparent that the other buoy is actually a straight line marker that leads down towards the finish!

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Biggest criticism though was the exit point was not adequately defined and was virtually hidden from view (from the swimmers perspective) which caused many swimmers to go in the wrong direction a second time (myself included)!

BIKE>>> Hilly!  Often described poetically by some as rolling hills throughout the course. Hills suit some people but not me. That being said, what goes up must come down so all in all, it wasn’t too bad a ride. The first few hundred metres has multiple speed bumps. I wasn’t alone in losing seatpost mounted bike bottles that popped out of their holders on impact with the bumps! After stopping twice to retrieve them, I gave up on the third time!

Note to self: tape them down in future!

There’s a section near the beginning at the Cannock Wood area that travels along narrow country lanes, Thorleys Hill and leading onto Stoneywell Lane. I personally found this section hazardous as it’s pitted with numerous pot-holes and badly scared and worn road surface. In fairness, the potholes are marked with spray-paint but they are numerous and sometimes difficult to avoid.

There are rolling hills throughout the whole ride. However, the main climb starts at around 56K and goes on for approx. 12K. At its peak, elevation creeps up from 68m at the base, to 238m. On the positive side you’ve now broke the back of the hills and are left with a fast descent from 71K followed by an undulating final 20K ride to T2.

RUN>>>> The run travels out from T2 to the city, then 3 loops around the city centre. Flat but with the exception of 2 bridges, which although very small, with each progressive loop, get harder and harder to climb! A nice touch is a coloured band is placed on runners wrists at a passing point on each loop. Once you’ve got 3 bands, then it’s time to exit the loops and run directly to the finish line. Another nice touch which shows how committed Stafford is in embracing the event is the Lord Mayor and his party, present finishers medals - I was lucky enough to receive mine directly from the Lord Mayer.

The run worried me for a couple of reasons:

The good news is the Achilles held up (a bit tight but manageable), and although the legs were heavy and tired, they were strong enough to take me through running across the finish line.

Overall Verdict

Pros

Cons

If you can put up with the registration process, and the split transition then yes, have a go. But, do your research; might there be another 70.3 elsewhere that has a single transition(?), or if it does have a split transition, then might it be more cleverly managed and hence less stressful.

As a closing comment, I couldn’t state enough how important it is to have someone with you to help support you through the time consuming registration process, and generally just being there for you on the day of the race. I have my wife Colette to thank for the role she played over those 2 days.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IRONMAN: Why not dispense with the split registration and have everything at Chasewater? OK, there may be fewer crowds and potentially not the same atmosphere as finishing in Staffs town centre, but having everything under one roof (at Chasewater), would simplify the mechanics of the event and make it a more streamlined and enjoyable experience.