Last year, as a first time Ironman competitor with only around 9 months triathlon experience, I had approached the event with some trepidation. What a difference a year makes! With the extra year of training, the increased understanding of the sport and confidence of having handled the problems of the previous year's race, I travelled to Bolton feeling fit and ready to try to get under my target time of 13 hours 30 minutes. My only doubt was the amount of training that I had managed to undertake during the final month was far less than I would have liked, but surely it was better to go into the event slightly undercooked than overcooked?
The format of the days in the run up to the event was reassuringly familiar, which meant that I went up a day later than last year, dispensed with the practice swim and spent the time checking out the changes to the bike course and transition areas. The set up was much more efficient than 2009 and, although having split transition areas wasn't ideal, T1 was a far better layout and we didn't have the parking/mud problems that had haunted the previous Bolton event.
On the day itself, it couldn't have started better, for although my position at the start of the swim was poor and I ended up getting far more bashed about than last year, the swim went well and I exited in 1 hour 23 mins, some 13 minutes faster than last year and after a smooth T1, was on the road in 1 hour 30 mins - very satisfying!
The bike leg started very well, with a long stretch up to three loops around Chorley. It was here that I probably made my biggest error, as I set a pace that was really a bit too fast and ended up paying for it during the final loop. My average speed dropped from 18 mph to a feeble 12 mph, however I rallied towards the end and managed to complete in 7 hours 18 mins, disappointing but still over half an hour quicker than the previous year. I was fortunate that I was accompanied by John from Ireland for some 30 minutes towards the end, whose chatter and banter helped me to keep going!
As with the swim, the run went well and I managed to maintain a steady rhythm throughout and completed in a satisfying 4 hrs 23 mins, a couple of minutes behind John, who caught me up again with about 3 miles to go. As with last year, the finish line was fantastic with lots of people, music, cheering, shouting and those priceless words 'You are an IRONMAN!!!'
My total time was 13 hours 27 minutes, so inside my target and 1 hour 18 minutes quicker than 2009 - fantastic! As always my final word has to be for my wife Sarah and children, Alice and Tom. Their ongoing support during the months of training make the dream possible, and Sarah's noisy and emotional support on the day was, once again, fundamental in helping me finish. For me, the Ironman is definitely a team event.