And now, the weather forecast …
If it’s to be believed, this is the BBC’s forecast for the week ahead, culminating in a nice, sunny (hot!) day on Sunday, with a gentle breeze. Beggars can’t be choosers – I’d have liked the temperature to be in the low 20s ideally – but I’d take any of these days against the windy (and later wet) conditions we’ve endured today.
This morning, I headed out with fellow guesthouse guest Gilles – a vastly experienced Frenchman now on his 27th Ironman – to ride the majority of the bike course along the coast from PE to its furthest point at Seaview, and back again. That’s a course of 56 miles – and we’ll be doing two laps of it on the full Ironman itself.
We set off today into a headwind of 21mph which lasted for nine of the first ten miles of the course, and was in our faces for the vast majority of the 26 miles out to the turnaround point. I’ve never cycled into such as strong headwind. It was a real baptism of fire for the real thing on Sunday, and my spirits didn’t just sink, they dive-bombed! (Not good on the day I was sent a link to a Youtube video reminding me that giving up is never an option for an Ironman!).
Gilles set off at a pace, and I felt bad holding him up. I’m aiming for an average speed of at least 14mph on the day, which would see me complete the 112 mile course in exactly eight hours. So I had an eagle eye on my bike computer, which barely saw me get above 11mph for the majority of those first few miles this morning. It was hard work, with legs burning, and for the very first time I felt that – if we were to have this kind of weather on Sunday – the task would be beyond me.
While Gilles was very kind and patient in waiting for me, there were a few times when he couldn’t resist powering off, and at one point he became a small, distant dot on the long, straight road heading towards the sea. (By comparison: I’d be delighted to complete the whole event in 15hrs 30 mins, Gilles is aiming for something just over 11hrs.)
I knew things would get easier at the turnaround point in Seaview – and that the same fierce wind that had made life so difficult on the way out would be blowing us all the way back on the return leg. But when the turnaround point is still so far away, that’s of little recompense. Then there’s the turnaround point itself. Almost as if they’d done it deliberately, the organisers have devised a turnournd that involves a small loop up a very steep hill. With Gilles powering on up it, I had thoughts of getting off and walking it, just to give my legs a rest. But just because Gilles was out of sight was no excuse, and it would have felt like cheating if I had.
Sure enough, the ride back was much more pleasant, seeing us easily reach speeds of over 20mph and averaging more than 18mph for the majority of the return leg. Keep the faith. In the end, I managed an average speed of 14.7mph over the 53 miles we rode this morning, which really pleased me. My hamstrings and buttocks were burning at the end (I rarely get saddle-sore) but I was proud to have hung in after such a dispiriting start earlier on.
I really wouldn’t have fancied turning around and doing it all again though, as I’ll have to on Sunday. If I could repeat that pace on the day I’d be good for a complete bike time of under eight hours, which I’d be very happy with. But there’s a real question about how much that would have taken out of me, with a whole marathon still to run.
So I feel like I’m riding my luck. Good weather for Sunday please, with barely any wind. I’m going to struggle if it’s anything like a repeat of today.