IM70.3 Staffordshire 2018 got off to a slow start, but came together pretty well once it got underway. With the finish line moving to Stafford town center, changes to the bike course, T2 and the run were required, which in turn meant some significant logistical changes – and therein lay a source of considerable ire amongst the athletes. More on that later.
Last year the weather, the course and the organization were all great. Even the split transition worked out well with well organized buses between locations. Finishing in the park of Shugborough Hall was ideal, with a ton of space in pleasant surroundings to hangout. Admittedly, if it had rained it would probably have become a mudfest, so there were risks, but in this case it paid off. I mention this because I signed up to do it again in 2018 without reservation and encouraged friends to do the same. That won’t be the same after this years race.
Nevertheless, there is still a lot to commend about the event. The swim course was spacious, the rolling start meant not too much bunching, and the sighting was easy. The start was delayed by an hour, because fog was limiting visibility, but we were kept well informed about what was going on – so no griping over that. The start of the bike course was not for the faint hearted. The first section (maybe 10 miles?) followed country lanes that were narrow in places, had unexpected sharp turns, the occasional road bump, potholes, and gravel and mud to contend with. At that point you would be forgiven for wishing you had brought your gravel bike rather than a slick TT beast. After that the road surface improved and widened, giving way to rolling ups and downs for much of the rest of it. It was a challenging course because of the first section and because you were pedaling the whole way (few downhill sections justified freewheeling), but not because of the total elevation which my Garmin clocked at 2,339 feet. The run was relatively flat (Garmin showing 335 feet elevation), three loop affair, with a nice variety of terrain: grass, trail, canal path, road, and lots of spots for spectators to see their athletes. All in all, I really like the variety of the swim, bike, run courses. Having said that, in wet conditions the bike course could be very dodgy in places, and the trail parts of the run wouldn’t be much fun. No matter, after a chilly start it warmed up nicely (bike start was 54 degrees fahrenheit, run finish was 79), with clear skies the whole way.
Now, let’s talk about those logistics. Registration was possible on the Friday and Saturday and was situated right next to T2. The athlete guide provided a post/zip-code locater which placed one in a Sainsbury (grocery store) car park about 1.5 miles away, with no clear instructions in the guide, or signage on the roads, to show how to get from the car to the registration/ T2. Result: athletes wondering around asking each other where to go. T1 was a 30 minute drive away and we had to personally drop our transition bags with gear at T1 and T2, which meant driving between the two places. If you had the misfortune to not be aware of the proximity of T2 and registration (again, no timesaving advice in the athlete guide) you might find yourself walking 1.5 miles to register, walking 1.5 miles back to your car to bag your run gear, then returning to T2 to place your bag (another 1.5 miles), then walking another 1.5 miles back to your car, only then to have to drive to the T1 drop off. That’s a lot of unwanted walking and hours on the move the day before racing. Believe me, it was happening. People were not happy. I had the relative luxury of having checked in on Friday, so my situation was marginally better than those who were turning up to do everything on the Saturday.
Still on those logistics, the next issue was that the finish line in the town center was a good mile away from T2, so another walk was required post-race to go pick up bags and bike. My final grouch was the awards ceremony which started over an hour late. Delay was understandable, because the race start had been delayed by an hour, but there was no communication about the delay until literally 3 minutes before starting the awards, so everyone just sat and waited. Having said that, the awards were done very efficiently and quickly, so no complaints there (Emma Pallant, the top pro woman turned up and was impressively energetic for someone who had done back to back racing weekends, but Elliot Smales on the male side clearly didn’t want the wait and was absent).
And I haven’t even talked about the traffic situation in Stafford on a Saturday….but that’s enough complaining.
The volunteers, by the way, were fantastic – very helpful, very cheerful, and tons of them around to help.
My race? For me this was a training race, with my eye on IMLP coming up in a few weeks time, so I wasn’t properly tapered, but the swim, bike and run all went pretty much to plan (with some rookie errors messing up both transitions) and I was pleased with the result (2nd in my AG). Friend and training partner, Cody Dolly, also came over from the States to do the race, and did very well on the back of recovering from a serious injury – kudos to him for doing it for the enjoyment of the sport, even though he knew he was below par in preparation.
In summary: thumbs up for the course and volunteers, thumbs down for a couple of logistics issues that were too significant to ignore.