An early start having racked the day before, at Fordingbridge, and overnighted at a friend's house. Alarm at 4.15am for breakfast and then a drive to the fabulously named "Sandy Balls Holiday Camp" to park up and take a bus transfer to T1 and the lake.
Standing by the lake at 6.30am, I was questioning my sanity but at 7.10 we (old farts) followed Wave 1 (Quick Men & Ladies) into the water which was surprisingly warm (unlike Hever last year which was surprisingly freezing!) and at 7.22am we were off for a 1.9k swim. It all went well and I enjoyed myself. I estimate that I was about 35/36 mins for the swim but T1 was a bit of a mare as I got caught up trying to put dry kit on a wet body but my splits show 42 mins for Swim + T1. There was a bit of a run out to the road which was partly on mats but then on mud/sand which was okay except my Shimano cycle cleats clogged up and wouldn't clip to my pedals. Off the bike, clean the cleats, back on the bike and not happy.
The bike was more hilly than I expected and why is it all the flat stretches appear to be into a head wind? Perhaps I was travelling very fast (!) (wise up Andy, the time says otherwise). Great scenery with plenty of wildlife - horses, ponies, donkeys, cattle - and a lovely moment when a bull wandered out in front of me causing a slalom avoidance manoeuvre that had fellow cyclists applauding my cycling agility - but that was about all there was to applaud.
On reflection I found the bike tough (very undulating with little remission from climbing) and despite covering more than this distance regularly in training with Jeff & Peter - at about mile 45 the quad cramps started and it was almost the Sussex Sportive all over again! So I pulled back on the speed and nursed my legs to the finish and after 56 miles it was a relief to get off the bike and dump it in T2.
Into the tent, off with the cycle kit and deep joy to pull on the trainers for the run. My split shows 3.32 for Bike + T2.
And off I plodded. No whippet out of the blocks as per usual but more a cart horse with one goal - to finish what I'd started.
A cross country half marathon is very different to my usual road races and I found it tough, especially with my thighs in shreds. Fortunately, I teamed up - at about mile 7 - with 2 other runners having similar fun, to see each other to the end. The final hill nearly killed me and my quads were spasming (quite odd to watch) but after 2.40 (an hour longer than my average half marathon time) I crossed the line and never has a chair been so welcoming.
Final time 6.55.39. Was hoping for somewhere around 6 hrs but I have re-aligned my expectations, since!!
What have I learned? Not to over estimate my own abilities and not to under estimate the course.
But more importantly I found out that even during the most negative parts of the bike course - when I was unsure how much further there was to cycle, when my legs were killing me, when I started to think there was no way of running 13 miles and when I just wanted to give up - that there is a part of me that refuses to give in. I was not going to let all that training go to waste, I was not going to tell everyone I'd achieved a DNF and, more importantly, I was not going to let myself down.
I don't care about the time. I'm proud to have finished such a huge race. To expect your body to deliver for 7 hours is a massive ask. Ironmen? Hats off guys - I'm in awe.
Ps Perhaps now, I can be upgraded on The Forum from "Sprint Distance" athlete, to "Middle Distance". I feel I have earned it!
pps My mum made me smile. "I'm so proud of you, Andrew. You have to remember though, you're 53 and not getting any younger". Ouch!!
Author: Andy Miles