Arran Half Ironman


Arran half ironman, 2nd June 2018 – Kirst MacArthur

I’m not quite sure how or why I ended up registering for this event?! A moment of madness I think…Having completed the French etape in 2015 I was fairly sure that would be my last big one. The volume of training involved with the etape was so huge and definitely had, what I always considered, slightly “selfish” implications on family life that I wasn’t entirely at ease with that whole side of things. And besides, as I’ve grown older haven’t I always said, “I don’t really like events!”?! So why??!
Approaching 50 maybe does funny things to a person’s mind?? So anyway, I paid my registration fee and I was in! I have to say I liked the idea of a low key event which I knew Arran would be. No flash bikes or hugely competitive athletes. It was always just an ‘event’ for me as opposed to a ‘race’ so low key suited me just fine.

Training was fairly relentless before the event. I registered late September and started training straight away. I’m lucky for a couple of reasons – for one thing I work part-time and have quite a bit of time to squeeze training in during the day when the kids are at school. And secondly my middle daughter, Louise, swims at the Commie pool 3 or 4 mornings per week and I used this 5.30am slot as my main swimming training time. It meant I could swim my 2km then occasionally run afterwards and be home for breakfast with the others by 7.30am! Training sorted before anyone is even up – ideal for me! The down side of all this obviously is I’ve become very much a ‘lone wolf’ – training by myself all the time and never really getting to join in the E#3 sessions. With so many other swim lifts to do for Louise/TKD training for Finlay/Kev’s coaching commitments and his training, these early slots/ training alone during the day really were the only way of fitting it all in whilst not upsetting our family routine. It works for our family but wouldn’t be everyone’s ideal set up!

To begin with I made up my own training. I needed to work on increasing my run distances for a start. No easy way of doing that other than forcing myself to go out, no matter the weather/fatigue levels etc. That was the horribly hard part of the training for me. I’m not a natural runner and I don’t overly enjoy it but a half marathon wasn’t going to be possible without a lot of work from me! My cycling was more enjoyable. During the winter I didn’t cycle much outside; I used the turbo in the garage. I do actually really quite like the turbo fortunately though. Trainer road and Netflix got me through the winter months and by the time the slightly better weather came along, I was strong enough to do around 50km rides with a bit of effort! Swim fitness obviously took care of itself with my early morning routine.

Kev wrote me a programme around February/March time once I’d built up my distance stamina and this was a big help as it gave my training some direction/ focus, building an ‘adaption day’ (rest day!) into my heavy schedule every week and ensuring I was tapering my training in time for the ‘big day’! I made it really clear to him I was not interested in time – I’m one for ‘completing’ as opposed to ‘competing’ and I wanted a programme tailored to that, which of course he did. To begin with I was cruising on it and wondering why on earth I was having adaption days every Thursday when all I wanted to do was train. However, it got HEAVY as it progressed. I’d be swimming 2-2.5km at 5.30am as normal, would go home for breakfast and see the kids off to school then I’d be going out for 60-70km cycles. Runs were increasing in distance and my number of brick sessions also progressed as we got closer to the event. By the beginning of May I had also signed up for Loch Leven half marathon to prove to myself I was capable of such a distance. (This was an ideal marathon to do – fairly flat the whole way and very informal/chilled as an event)
By mid-May I felt utterly exhausted. I was getting to the point of really not enjoying the training anymore because I knew I HAD to go out to do it rather than wanting to do it. I came back from one 12 mile run one Tuesday and was virtually in tears. I was so tired, almost to the point of being totally broken. I was managing the training load but was finding it utterly exhausting. When I complained to Kev he listened and reduced my training load by enough that I could continue and it became more enjoyable. The best and most encouraging session he got me to do was the ‘metric triathlon’ – ie, my half-ironman distances in km rather than miles; so a 1.2km swim/ a 56km bike then a 13.5km run. These distances, whilst hard, were actually manageable and that gave me the self-belief that I would manage Arran’s 1.9km swim/ 90km bike and a half marathon.

As the event approached, tapering was obviously scheduled. This was great! Rest was needed and, although I did fancy going a bit longer and harder on the sessions Kev had put in place for those last 2 weeks, I didn’t stray from the training programme. Kev sat down with me to discuss my ‘pre-race preparation’ My what??! All new to me!
He discussed what to have ready to put in transition on race day/ clothing was discussed/ pre-race breakfast/fluid intake and, what I’d say was the most effective part of the whole planning process for me, the food. He’d advised me to eat what I would consider to be FAR too much for one day. He’d worked out my energy output versus my intake and had decreed that sandwiches/ bars/ fruit/ gels were to be consumed every 20 minutes on the bike! So much food for me but in hindsight that was definitely the whole key to my completion (and enjoyment) of the event. I had never wanted to finish by crawling over the finish line and I am adamant that the careful planning pre-race was the reason I managed to do so well and I am truly grateful to Kev for supporting me and guiding me here. I definitely couldn’t have done it without his help. Thank you dear!

On race day I wasn’t overly nervous or anxious as I would be ordinarily. I knew I could complete it and that’s all I wanted to do. My head was calm and I was happy to be there. A fairly alien feeling for me pre an event. Chatting with other competitors at the start line was really interesting. There was a lovely couple from Edinburgh who spend their retired life competing in triathlons all over the world. The husband was an ex-Warrender swimmer who could still knock out good swim times, whilst running was her best discipline. Then there was the guy who’d never been on his friend’s road bike before but had borrowed it for the day to complete his half ironman…!! A real mixture of abilities/ shapes/ sizes but all so friendly.

We got a speedboat over to Holy Isle from Arran and waited to be asked to go into the water. Peering into the water below me, I was slightly alarmed at the number of jellyfish I could see from the jetty – there were literally MILLIONS of them! Some the size of a 5p coin but others fully grown with long tentacles. I also noticed that others, probably more experienced than me, were wearing wetsuits/ boots/ gloves/ neoprene caps covering a good part of their face…hmm, now I knew why! I wasn’t overly bothered by them though as we dropped into the water (I did consider Ailsa at this point though and worried slightly about her reaction! Nothing I could do about that now!). When the starting hooter went I waited a little so I wouldn’t get caught up in the chaos and made a start on my swim. I was very aware of jellyfish everywhere but tried to ignore them and get into a rhythm. I’d already sussed out where the first buoy was and had picked out a clump of trees on the land above the trees to ‘sight on’. This plan worked and I felt terrific on my swim. The water was flat calm, I was warm enough and I seemed to be picking up speed happily. By the time we’d turned at the first buoy I was very aware of passing many people. Encouraged by feeling amazing in the water, I pushed on and was happy to be sighting the last buoy – by the water exit. First lady out the water??! Thanks to all those early morning swim sessions!

My transition wasn’t great. I could hear the guy on the microphone announcing that the first lady would be crossing the start line with her bike any second…little did he realise I had a full wardrobe to adorn first – bib shorts (because there’s no way I could complete 90km without extra padding at my age!), a cycle jersey had to be put on top of my tri suit (because it held my stack of food in the back pockets), socks (entirely normal in my book!), cycle shoes and helmet. I didn’t actually blow dry my hair but given the time I took in transition, you’d think I had! Eventually I got going on my bike though, much to the presenter’s delight.
The cycle was amazing. The wind was fairly light and the road surface was actually way better than any Edinburgh roads. The route took me anti-clockwise round the whole island. The only food stop was at 40km. This was manned by a lady who saw I was part of E#3. She was complaining to me that we hadn’t held our aquathon this year and her kids (from Arran) had been disappointed not to attend this year!
I’d been warned about the hills by the organiser in the briefing but I had the words from Roy in the back of my mind for most of it – “if you can do HOWL, you can cycle Arran”. Lochranza was definitely the hardest hill and it was a long slog but it felt great to cruise past a couple of guys on the inclines who had raced past me on the flat, clearly not wanting to be “chicked”! I was tired around 80km and I did struggle with the unexpected hills after that but it was great to see the finish line ahead of me. Only a half marathon to go…!
I chugged down some flat coke (yuk!) in transition whilst taking off all my layers and changing shoes. I thankfully shoved 2 gels down the front of my tri suit just in case and got started on the run. It was absolutely awful at the start. My legs were barely moving as I shuffled along the streets of Brodick. At this stage I seriously considered stopping but knew I couldn’t possibly have DNF next to my name so forced myself to keep going. My legs didn’t really wake up again until about 10km. By this point I hadn’t come across any water stations and I was parched. I was forced to drink a gel as a way of getting fluid into me and managed to start to pick up the pace a little bit after that. As I’ve experienced a problem with my knee for the last 8 months Kev had encouraged me to train using 9 minute run/ 1 minute walk. I did this exactly for the first 17km but by that distance the walk was doing little for me anymore so, as I’d been told, just run by that point. I got my 2nd drink stop around 17km – an unmanned stall of water bottles and cups – serve yourself! By this time I’d met another guy who was running with me/chatting a bit/falling behind/catching me/running ahead and that was good company for the last wee bit. By the time I could see the finish line I was very aware of someone hot on my heels. It was the lady from Edinburgh who I’d spoken to on the jetty at the start – the good runner! I had a feeling I was in 2nd place at that point so I had to dig deep and pick up my pace. Although I’m not hugely competitive, by the time I realised I was probably 2nd lady I wanted to keep that position with only 500 metres to go! So I pushed myself on and crossed over the end about 15 seconds before her! Woohoo!

My overall time was 6 hours 8 minutes. I was delighted. I had been worried about the 7 hour cut off time which they had introduced about 2 weeks prior to the event but I needn’t have worried.
Arran was a great event – chilled and friendly with a lovely swim and bike course. I’m not a fan of course loops being used for the run (which this was) but I don’t think I’d have enjoyed any run course to be honest. There was definitely a shortage of water stops for the run in particular but good preparation for me in the form of gels down my trisuit helped me. Some of the route signage was a little dubious in parts of the bike and run course but generally it was really well organised and I would recommend the Arran triathlon festival to anyone.