157 Ben Walton, GBR

157 Ben Walton, GBR
Position in AG 25-29: 20 // Finish Time: 5:22:44
Swim: 25:44 // T1: 3:38 // Bike: 3:06:36 // T2: 2:16 // Run: 1:34:30

Coach’s remarks: Grab a coffee at afternoon tea break and read Creek Benny’s IM SA 70.3 as I know many of you love the reports on various events as do I. Great read Benny and a real tough day in the office mate, real tough day!!!!

After racing the reasonably flat courses of 70.3 Antwerp and 70.3 Philippines in 2010 I fancied the challenge of a bit of a harder course, I’d comfortably gone sub-5 and so the challenge was to now go fast on a harder course, so I chose South Africa, apparently the 6th hardest of the current 70.3 WTA races. Should be a good test I thought.

We flew overnight on the Thursday and arrived in East London, SA mid afternoon on the Friday, to pretty big winds. Our hotel was right near the race start, and therefore the sea, and the waves were looking pretty crazy. Just after the sun set there was a lovely thunderstorm lasting most of the night, the scene was set, there was going to be nothing easy about this race.

Saturday morning went for a nice ride and run, and then headed down for swim practice on the swim course. Wetsuited up and walking into the water it didn’t take long to realise that the water was frickin’ cold, infact I had to walk back out to the beach for a short time to get the feeling back in my feet and try again, it was like getting into an ice bath! The next issue was the current, I was finding it pretty tough to actually get through some of the waves! Eventually got a bit of a swim in, by the time my head had been under the water for a few seconds it was instant brain freeze, lovely. Got out the water after 600m or so, pretty relieved that the water had been tested and I knew what expect the next day, on the positive side, it wasn’t that bad once you got going, and I knew a good warm up in the morning would be essential to a good swim.

Had the unfortunate incident of having my card cloned at a cash machine on the way to the race expo, but that’s for another story! Picked up the race number and various goodies, got everything set up, bike checked in, race briefing and back to the room to chill out for the rest of the evening. In bed for about 8:30 and asleep for 9, no issues there.

Up at 4am race morning, breakfast consisted of a bowl of porridge, some ensure, a couple of gels and a red bull shot, yum! Got to my bike and the front tire was completely flat. Not quite sure what happened as it was perfectly fine when I checked it in the day before, i even rode it to the bike check in. There was about 30 mins until T1 was closing, didn’t fancy my chances of changing a tubular in that time, so pumped it back up, spun it around a few times and just hoped it’d hold up for the race. Wet suit on, similar struggle getting in the water for the warm up as the previous day, but got pretty acclimatised to the water and was pretty confident. 15 mins before out wave went off (Wave 1 pro’s, wave 2 18-39 males) we lined up on the beach. I was ready.

The Swim. Had the advantage of watching the pro’s go off first, so could see what sort of direction they were heading in and how many waves they jumped before starting swimming, I’d positioned myself conservatively in the middle of the pack, the gun went off and we charged into the sea, jumped a few waves and got swimming, was a pretty clean start considering 1000+ people in the wave, and off we went. The course was an anti-clockwise loop. The water was pretty choppy all the way round, was tough to site the buoys as you had to time your sighting with the waves in order to see over them. I struggled to get on any fast feet for the majority of the swim and seemed to be spending most time swimming round people. Other than no-feet and very choppy water, the swim was pretty incident free, the odd kick and elbow and stuff but nothing out the ordinary. Out the water in 35 ish, the actual timing mat was a bit of a distance away so time was a bit more. I also measured the actual swim as around 2100m too, so my swim “speed” was about what I expected with the challenge of the cold and the choppy water. Pro times were 1-2 mins down on some of the faster swims, so with all that in mind was pretty happy.

T1. T1 was a big run up a hill at the start, no problem for me with the Tulip experience! Running up there however I had a total mind block of what my race number was, was it 137, 147 or 157? Luckily my wrist band had 157 written on it, picked up the bike bag and in the tent. Found a helpful guy to help me take the wetty off and get my stuff in order, went the wrong way to my bike, hopped over a rack, got it mounted and was on the way, on the bike in under 40 mins if i remember correctly which I generally use as a milestone, and off I went.

Bike. Got to the first turn on the bike about 2km in and realised my front tire was pretty flat as the bike nearly toppled over. Oh great! Tried standing up on the first climb and as my weight transferred towards the front of the bike I could feel it riding on the rim. I took the decision to ride with it and see what happens, I knew the course was reasonably straight most the way and I could afford to be a bit driving miss daisy around the few sharp bends that existed and still be ok on the straights. It’d take me 30 minutes to change the tire anyway, I was presuming it wouldn’t slow me down by 30 minutes to ride it flat. The course suddenly seemed all uphill, having no real opportunity to ride the course I’d only seen and read about the course on the net and knew it’d be tough going out, plus everyone I’d spoke
to that’d had done the race before said it was a monster of a bike course. I have an average speed field on my bike Gamin, this was slowly ticking down, 32-31-30-29-28-27, I was going nowhere fast. The rain which started pretty much as soon as i got on the bike was building all the time, there was also a pretty strong headwind, and so
even on the descents I was struggling to hit 30k’s.

The course wasn’t getting any easier and was getting pretty depressing watching the average speed tick down 29-28-27-26, doing calculations in my head, 330 bike? 6 hour finish? EVENTUALLY the turn around came my average was down to about 24 km/h. That was officially the toughest 45kms I’ve ever ridden and it’d taken me around 1:51! A total slog all in all, but pretty rewarding being at the top. After a bit more driving miss daisy around the turn around I was on the other side of the road and flying back, in fact I was having lots of fun. 50km marker was there in no time, as was 60km, the average speed was on it’s way back, 24-25-26, splashing about in the rain, it was like being a kid on a mountain bike again, which was infact the last time I’d ridden a bike in the rain. The flat was holding well, I was enjoying my self and things were suddenly looking up, 3:30 bike was looking like 3:15, then 3:10, average speed was rising, 25-26-27-28, all of sudden I was at 80km, getting back into town and thinking about the run. It was still chucking it down, but the road surface was pretty good and I’m sure on a dry day with a pumped up tire a lot of time could be made up on the way back, Frederik van Lierde, race winner and fastest bike rode back at around 48km/h. Got to T2 around 3:06 bike, I’d have given anything at half way for a 3:10.

T2. Pretty uneventful T2, bike taken off me, Kona style, no issues
remembering my race number, picked up run bag, shoes on, fuel belt on and out on the run.

Run. Was trying not to go too quick on the first part of the run, keeping it steady, running 3:55-4:15/km and feeling good, a couple of ks in I was passing the finishing chute with James Cunama coming in second going to opposite way, gave him a bit of a clap and a few steps later I was rolling on the floor after tripping over! Pretty embarrassing as it was right next to the densest number of supporters on the course! Got myself up, brushed my self down and carried on running. It was still totally pissing it down but I was running well, picking up countless amounts of people and enjoying it all.

The run was 2 10.5 km out and back laps, with a pretty big hill at the turn around, got up it pretty well on the first lap. I got to 10.5km in bang on 45 mins on my watch, which was right where I wanted to be, however I was beginning to feel it around here, the legs were suffering from the climbing on the bike, my stomach was beginning to tell me off for the sugar I’d taken in earlier in the day and I was
getting tired! Managed to avoid slipping over at the same place on the second lap and acknowledged the people who asked me if I was alright the first time around. The hill on the second lap was a bit of a killer and seemed twice as steep, I was feeling it by now, calves, quads, hammy’s all screaming at me! Once I was at the top though I
knew it was plain sailing to the finish and managed to pick it up slightly. The whole run seemed to pass relatively quickly like the 2nd half of the bike and I crossed the line in 5:22:44, with a “Ben Walton from the United Arab Emirates”. 16th in my Age Group. First non-pro Brit over the line (3rd overall after Toby Jameson and Jodie Swallow) and 7th non South African age grouper. Pretty happy with that once I’d
worked it all out! I’d also beaten my race number by coming in 155th overall with race number 157.

Got a few texts from the team and a call off Sellar which was awesome, was also pleased to here that people had been reading about the tough conditions, and Sellar telling me pro-men were riding the out leg slow too. Jasper Blake who won the Tri Yas Olympic didn’t manage 30km/h on the out leg with most pro’s around 30-31.

The awards do was great, and also made me realise that there are some awesome age groupers in South Africa. I think the runner in the winning relay team did a 1:07 half marathon, and there were some really impressive times from the top male and female age groupers. I suppose they have the advantage of training and racing in similar conditions, wet, cold, windy, hilly, compared to our, dry, hot, calm, flat.

I enjoyed the challenge of this race, the toughest ride I’ve ever done and great to compare my self with some top pro’s and age groupers! Though after getting 9000Dhs stolen out my bank account, never feeling safe, and still awaiting to here where in the world my bike is, I won’t be going back to South Africa anytime in the distant future!

Thanks to everyone in the team for their support, it means a lot when you’re away racing knowing everytime you cross a timing mat people will be seeing it and cheering you on. Thanks also for all the good luck and congrats messages before and after the race, it means a lot and its great to be part of such a great team!

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