Race Report: Ophelia Vesely

Event: Staffordshire 70.3 Ironman
Date: 11th June 2023

I’ve had my heart set on completing an Ironman ever since starting triathlon, but I thought a Half Ironman would be a good challenge itself, so signed up to Staffordshire 70.3 with some friends from university. I was pretty confident about my ability to finish the race given I was comfortable with those distances and had done other endurance events (although no triathlon longer than a sprint distance), but had very low expectations of my times.

The entry prices are very expensive as the race takes a huge amount of administration, road closures, equipment, etc. Granted, you do get a lot of freebies with your sign-up like food, drinks and a T-shirt or having a tree planted, but it still seemed a bit steep compared to other race organisers.

Unfortunately, about 8 weeks before the race I got Achilles tendinitis so running in the build-up was minimal. It seemed every tester run just sent me back to square one in recovery. This meant my race day plan was to not do the run at all, given my main race of the season (World Sprint Championships) was only a month after.

The day before I spent travelling to Stafford via 3 conveniently delayed trains, meeting my overheating family in the car who had driven there to support me and rushing around the split transitions to get everything in place. Getting out of transition one minute before it shut was a wonderfully relaxing way to spend a birthday.

After good food and a good sleep however, I was ready to give it my best shot and woke up at 05:00am on race day feeling pretty stress-free given my low expectations! That didn’t last long though as I stood in the Portaloo queue hearing the swim time I wanted to self-seed myself in (the 30-35 minute wave) was being sent off. I eventually entered the water in the 40-45 minute slot and quickly found a good rhythm, keeping within my aimed pace despite having to swim around quite a lot of people. Leaving the water after 1.9km I got stuck behind dawdlers on some uncomfortable matting over rocks but executed T1 fairly efficiently.

Onto the 90km bike, the first 10km was pretty nasty, stuck behind people on tight and potholey roads. Then I realised sub-3 hours might be within reach given the run would be a write-off anyways. The ride was pretty rolling in terms of hills with an incredible amount of side-line supporters. It was a nice, thankfully shady route and I absolutely loved it. My ankle started to hurt at kilometre 20-30 but lessened as the ride went on. I’m not sure if I could’ve ridden at this speed if I was planning to run a decent half marathon after, but it was a good lesson in what my body can cope with. My only complaint was that my trisuit gave me chafing but it wasn’t too painful and peeing on the fly might not have helped but getting off the bike is a waste of time when racing (sorry to the competitor overtaking me at this point).

Rolling into T2 in 02:58:22 I was very happy with myself and the pain in my ankle had gone so began the 21.1km run. The heat hit down hard but the town centre atmosphere carried me for a few kilometres. Then the pain set in and I slowed down to a jog. After another kilometre or so I realised that although I certainly felt fine otherwise to keep racing, it wasn’t worth the damage to my tendon. So, I pulled out of the race and walked about 3 kilometres to the finish line through many frustrating “GO ON”s and “KEEP RUNNING”s which was pretty mentally crushing. My family were a bit surprised to see me on the outside of the finish chute and not in it, but had also been expecting me not to even start the run.

It was nice to try out an official Ironman event and I definitely plan to be back for more – the organisation and atmosphere were otherworldly.