Friday, 4 August 2017

Kona Qually Take 2...... Ironman Bolton

Anyone who knows me would have told you...

They’d have told you “Bollocks”...

Bollocks that I’d “leave my 2017 Kona campaign at just one race if things didn’t work out at Lanzarote”.

None of my friends actually said it... Ok a few did, but they all knew it.

And they were right.

Much as it was genuinely my intention to NOT wind up chasing Kona Qualification all year long, I couldn’t leave it after just one near miss. I had to give it “just one more” roll of the dice. Back on the horse and all that jazz.

It’s the classic behaviour of any addict.

Ironman UK seemed the obvious choice. It still had entries and I could do it with minimal time off work and less expense than another overseas trip.

A quick consult with coach and I had the green light and a plan. Recovery and then maintenance of my current fitness was the goal. No heroics needed.

I had a few other races to squeeze in, all with the intention of keeping me sharp. Some time trials, a local Oly and a bike leg in a 70.3 relay offered me some low stress fun with my race team “Race Hub”.

I’d scheduled in a few key training sessions as well.

I ventured up north the accept the kind offer of a guided tour of the bike course by the king of Bolton himself Brian “Foggi” Fogarty. Man that guy can ride a bike. Something every single Pro athlete would discover on race day!

We had a weekend of running in mountains and swimming in crystal clear lakes with Rob Green and his lovely wife Sarah at the “Triathlon Hideaway” in the Lake District. My kind of therapy. I’d signed up to race the Breca Buttermere Swimrun, which would now fall alarmingly 2 weeks after Bolton. So this was a chance to reccy some of the new route with team mate Paul (Lunn) and introduce Claire and her partner Kat (Berry) to the joys of running in a wetsuit and swimming in trainers! A total breath of fresh air – both physically and metaphorically.

Alan Murch’ stepped up again, this time by organising a trip to the Derby Velodrome for a few hours consulting with the “pharaoh of aero” Dan Bigham. A handful of free watts were duly bagged and Murch’s legend status cemented.

To restore some confidence in my swimming I had a stroke analysis session with Chris Hine (Pure Performance Coaching). We tweaked my stroke to better suit the open water and it worked wonders.

I’d spent some time pouring over the results from the last few years of IMUK and it seemed that a performance similar to the one I’d delivered in Lanza would all but guarantee me a spot at Kona. And the course at IMUK is easy by comparison to Lanza right?


It’s a dangerous game basing the level you need to attain on past results though...

A race with a “soft target” one year, suddenly becomes über competitive the year after as word spreads and would be Kona Qualifiers swarm to the start line, from far and wide, in the hope of an easy Kona in.

Having cast my eye over the start list I’d identified several quality GB athletes who would make my life hard. Additionally, a few overseas athletes had appeared on the start list. That’s always cause for concern with Bolton not being your typical race for foreign Ironman box-tickers. A bit of Google stalking revealed several with impressive palmares that would almost certainly be in Bolton looking for Kona Qualification.

IMUK would be no cake walk this year but I felt in a positive frame of mind and my mojo was definitely back.

It was in stark contrast to how I’d felt going in to Lanza. The pressure was still there in the weeks before Bolton, but I felt like I was rising to it, rather than buckling under it.

In the build up to race day I was consciously taking a different approach. Controlling the controllables and not sweating the small stuff. Having got myself so wound up in Lanzarote, I’d decided to treat Bolton like just another domestic race. I’d knock off work and drive up north a few days before, race hard, finish top 4, qualify for Kona and go back to work.


But things are rarely that simple.

I executed the first part of my plan pretty well. I arrived in Bolton on Friday at about 5pm. Just enough time to register and get back to my “Premier Inn” to embrace my inner Alan Partridge (large plate in hand).

Mum was joining me for the weekend, although she had booked into a nearby hotel that accepted guests of the four legged variety as well! We met up for supper and made a plan for the next few days.

On Saturday morning I had a short swim session to do so ventured to Pennington Flash which was only a few miles down the road. Everything felt normal, familiar and very British.

Cold? Check...

Grey? Check...

Raining? Check...

Swim Reccy - Rain ever present

The conditions didn’t phase me. I knew they would play to my advantage on race day. I felt relaxed and happy.

I bumped into a few friends including the ball of energy that is Nikki Bartlet. That girl is a real tonic and you can’t help but feel energised in her company.

Once into the Flash, I felt great – it was the perfect temperature and wonderfully calm as I knocked out two shortened swim laps.

The remainder of the day was spent with the tedious logistics of setting up two transition areas and race briefing etc... Not the ideal prep, but needs must.

Finally back at the Premier Inn I was now ready to chill. Claire was driving up from Leicester and would be joining me soon. I couldn’t wait for her to arrive.

IMUK has a typically British start time of 6:00am. This meant a 3:00am alarm call to get my breakfast down before heading to the Flash in the pre-dawn murk. I hadn’t slept much but was happy that I was well rested going into the race, so that didn’t worry me.

It was still dark as we trudged from the car-park to the race venue. Electricity generators buzzed in the far distance. I could see the skies were gloomy and rain looked set in for a good chunk of the morning. Control the controllables I repeated to myself.

The vibe at the Flash was fairly chilled when Claire and I arrived. I popped quickly into transition to inflate tyres and sort my nutrition. I didn’t fancy hanging around to get wound up.

The unmistakable tones of Paul Kaye crackled over the tannoy. As he introduced the pros I got myself into my wet-suit and joined the appropriate swim pen for the rolling start.

I opted for the 55:00 – 60:00 minute zone and quickly found some friends for a natter.

The pros were soon underway and we followed some 5 minutes later.

This was it. The last chance saloon.

As I ran onto the start pontoon I was cheered by Claire, Mum and George (the boarder terrier). I stopped for a quick smooch (with Claire, not the dog) before crossing the timing mat to start my day.

Claire and George supporting the swim

The water seemed calm and I instantly found completely clear water. This was incredible. I’d had worse biff in my morning pool sessions! I was passing people from the off and nobody was coming past me. You gotta LOVE rolling starts. I just felt at ease. Chris Hine... you are a genius.

I moved from feet to feet. Feeling smooth and controlled. I sensed I was swimming comfortably at sub 60 minute pace and it felt easy. “This is more like it” I mused.

Glancing at my watch at the end of the first lap, I was a little surprised to see 30 minutes had already ticked by. Claire and Mum were waving frantically but their cheers were quickly stifled as I jumped back into the Flash eager to begin lap 2 and try to up my pace.

I hit a little more congestion the second time round. It had taken almost 30 minutes to get all athletes into the water and we were now weaving through the back markers. No major bother though, I was able to thread my way though and was soon pulling myself up onto the pontoon to complete the swim.

I was buzzing!

Much happier than Lanzarote

I glanced at my watch and instantly had the wind taken out of my sails. ANOTHER 1:03 swim?? Eh? What gives? That had to be a long swim.

After conferring with friends after the race, my suspicions had been confirmed with the course measuring maybe an extra 200m.

The rain was coming down pretty hard as I ran toward the change tent. I was trying to decide how much kit to put on. I figured my sleeved tri-suit would be enough but I opted for arm warmers as the air felt cool. Pulling the tight fitting Lycra over wet skin cost me a little time but I knew I had made the right decision as I left on my bike and the wind-chill hit.

More cheers from Claire and Mum and I was on my way for the opening section that links to the main loop.

Race power felt easy. Maybe we had a tail wind. Even still, I had to force myself to obey my power meter and resist the urge to go with the overeager pace being set by the riders who were passing me. The run was where I’d hoped to do the damage.

I settled into a comfortable pace and it wasn’t long before I was starting the main loop (which would be ridden twice). Not much later the first challenge of the day arrived – the climb of Sheep House Lane.

I’d tackled this climb in similar conditions during my reccy ride with Foggy. Though on that occasion I’d left my front eTap battery on charge back in Leicester, so had grovelled up in the big ring. Today, with the luxury of a 39 chainring at my disposal, it presented no real problems and was efficiently dispatched to the cheers of a crowd of overexcited Mexican wrestlers (you had to be there).

The decent was fast, furious and scary in equal measure.

The A675 from Belmont to Roddlesworth had been a fantastic wind assisted blast on my reccy. Today it was a demoralising block head wind grovel.

And that set the tone for the remainder of the lap.....

Flying one minute... grovelling the next. Braking for sharp corners... accelerating out of them. The descents, when they came, were so slick with rain that I struggled to make back the time I was losing on the tougher sections. The roads were typically British and nowhere could I really settle into a rhythm. It’s a super challenging course that really suits the punchy rider.

The kind of rider I’m not.

Into the second lap and I was feeling the affects of the constant spikes in power. The climbs of Sheep House lane and High Moor seemed significantly steeper this time round. My legs were pretty toasted.

I was also coming across a significant number of draft packs who seemed happy to work together. Indeed, I’d spent a good 10 miles of lap 2 towing a small train who would then blast passed me, only to slow down when they felt the effects of the wind.

I didn’t have enough matches left to risk pushing into the red to drop the trains, so resigned myself to coming of the gas and letting them go off and do their thing. Their was no way I was joining them on their immoral crusade. Sadly I didn’t see a single draft buster all day so I’m convinced a good many of these riders would have gained significant advantage from their antics.

The last 10 miles were wind assisted and I felt some energy returning to my legs. As the weather had been cool for most of the ride, I hadn’t felt the need to drink all that much. I wasn’t worried about my state of hydration, but liquids is also how I get my calories on the bike and I was a little concerned that I’d under fuelled. I did my best to drain what was left on my bike in the closing miles – A decision I’d later regret.

Coming into the Macron Stadium I glanced at my power meter. NP of 251 watts. Holy hell.

That was high for me. A tad too high for my liking. While I’d tried to ride conservatively, those hills and all those accelerations had clearly affected my numbers.

Jumping off the bike I didn’t feel too bad, save for a bit of worrying discomfort in my gut. I was really starting to wish I hadn’t sunk so much liquid in the last 10 miles of the bike.

If I just started steady I thought, I could let the nutrition work it’s way through and I’d surely benefit from it later in the race.

Starting steady is easier said than done on the Bolton course since the run climbs tortuously through a housing estate for the first mile or so.

As I began my marathon I spotted Claire and the Liveseys Mark and Caroline who were going bananas on the road side.

Claire with one of her famous signs

12th Dunc!! 12th in your Age-Group!!

Ok I thought, far from ideal... But I can do this.

I knew there were several strong bikers in my Age-Group. When they’d come past me during the ride I noted that they didn’t look like runners. But right now, I didn’t feel much like a runner either. Normally I run pretty well off the bike, but today my legs felt destroyed. The bike had taken it’s toll and my guts were doing somersaults.

It didn’t phase me though – I still felt positive and was happy just trotting along at 7 minute pace waiting... hoping... for my legs to come good.

If I’m honest, they took their sweet time and I was left wondering, on more than one occasion, if two Ironmen in two months was going to prove a bridge too far.

Thankfully though, once onto the main loop I was starting to find my rhythm. The downhill run into Bolton allowed me to rally myself for the meat of the course – the 3 full laps that followed.

Claire, mum and my other supporters had now decamped to Bolton and were waiting for me at the end of the loop in town.

10th Dunc! Mark yelled. Things were moving in the right direction and I felt like I could start to attack the course.

Through the centre of town

The main out and back loop is about 9k. The out leg is a cruel uphill slog with the return to Bolton town centre offering a brief chance to stretch the legs before the slog returns.

Coming back into town for the second time, more on course support.. 8th Dunc – Looking strong! (Cheers Alistair)

One full lap down... two to go.

I was feeling it now. Typically, the sun had now come out, but there was enough shade on the run to offer periodic respite. Bolton is no Lanzarote of course, but I was still needing to douse myself with water at every aid station to keep cool. Mercifully, the nutrition was now going down well and, while I felt less than stellar, I knew it was important to keep fueling – even if I didn’t much feel like it.

The second lap tested me. I was starting to suffer. I drew strength from the Pros on the course. Lucy G was leading but looking like she was having to dig deep into the hurt locker to hold off a very fast moving Diana Riesler in second. Nikki was looking like she could run through walls in 3rd and even had time to offer me a few words of encouragement. Not sure where Will Clark was in the men’s race – but he was hooning!

I just had to hang in there, keep moving forward and minimise time lost at the aid stations.

End of lap 2 and 7th place confirmed by my cheer leaders!

another lap down and moving through the field

Something pretty weird happened on my final lap. My mind wandered back to Lanzarote and the negative head-space I’d found myself in back then.

It wasn’t happening today. I was going to batter this last lap.

My legs felt like lumps of wood. But I had energy and, perhaps more importantly, the desire to keep pushing.

And I was going to push... for every single second of the last lap.

I don’t remember much about it... Except for the last 2 miles where I just seemed to get faster and faster. I weaved though fading runners as I entered the last mile at what felt like a sprint.

I ran straight through aid stations... only grabbing water to throw over my head. Calories weren’t going to help me now.

I felt like I was running a 5k.

Final bend

Into the finish chute, over the line..... and onto the deck.

Duncan Shea-Simonds 6th M40-45

4 Kona spots in my Age-Group meant it would be another anxious wait until roll-down.

In a cruel twist of fate, moments later I was relegated to 7th in my Age-Group after a fast finishing American crossed the line. Although finishing behind me, he’d obviously STARTED behind me as well (1:07 swim), but recorded a faster overall time by 38 seconds!

How could I possibly deal with losing a Kona spot by 38 seconds.

I had to feel positive though. I’d truly emptied the tanks and if that’s how my Kona campaign was to end, then I could be satisfied knowing I’d given it my all.

The legend Paul Kaye post race - all smiles

Over beer and Pizza with, Claire, Caroline and Mark, we analysed the results.

I was pretty sure that Mark in 1st and Joe in 3rd would not be taking their Kona spots this year.

I felt the Belgian and the American would almost certainly take theirs. I couldn’t see them coming to Bolton for any other reason (sorry Bolton).

That left two other Brits. One of which had to turn down their spot to give me the golden ticket.

I had a nervous wait ahead and I’ll be honest... I wasn’t full of confidence.

The following day I’d resigned myself to my fate. I headed back to the Macron Stadium primarily to watch the prize giving and support all the amazing performances from the day before.

Claire had ventured back to Leicester in the small hours as she had to return to work, but Mum (and George) were still with me.

Mum is one of my most loyal supporters. She travels to races with Claire and me and suffers the emotional ups and downs right along with us. She wanted me to qualify for Kona so badly. Almost as much as I did I reckon. She was noticeably subdued at the presentation – perhaps at the realisation that it was highly unlikely to happen today.

Before heading into the presentation, I stole a few words with Brett from Skechers. Brett has supported Race Hub from the early days. Skechers are now sponsoring the European Ironman Tour as well as such notable athletes as Lionel Saunders, Anja Beranek, Lucy Gossage and Nikki Bartlett. That they still have time for an ageing Age-Grouper is humbling. I desperately wanted to do Brett and Skechers proud so headed to roll down to meet my fate!

Mum and I watched as athlete after athlete went up to claim their spot. It’s wonderful watching individuals claiming their Kona spots.

You have the serial Kona Qualifiers, impressively winning their Age-Groups by country miles, who casually collect their Hawaiian leis with little emotion. Yeah whateva.

Then those who are clearly finally fulfilling a life long dream – wiping back tears as they have their photo taken by a proud loved one.

All the while I’m thinking 38 f***ing seconds... Please... It can’t come down to 38 seconds. It made me sick to think about it.

And soon enough it was time for Paul Kaye to announce my Age-Group.

“First place Mark Laithwait” Pass. As expected.

Still 4 spots remaining.

“Second place Nicholas Clarry” (One of two Brits who I needed to turn their spot down)

He jumped to his feet with a “Yes!” the moment the first syllable of his first name was called.

Balls! – 1 down, 3 spots left.

“Third place Joe Duckworth” Pass. No Surprise.

Still 3 spots left, but still 3 athletes in front of me. It was slipping away.

“Fourth place Scott Whittlestone”..... Silence

Holy shit...

“Scott Whittlestone?”..... Paul repeated

Don’t stand up.. Don’t stand up!!

“Scott?”.... “Ok, so no Scott, still 3 spots left”

The maths was simple, but my brain must have done the arithmetic 20 times in the 10 seconds that followed.

Hang on... 3 places left... 2 athletes in front of me.

Shit... I was going to Kona.

I had to wait for two more spots to be allocated and, as expected, the Belgian and the American both claimed theirs.

I would take the last spot.

I had to feel for the German guy behind me. 2 minutes and 43 seconds adrift.

He’d swam 7:32 quicker than me and our bikes rides were separated by 2 seconds!

I’d run 8:10 quicker though and suspected that I’d caught him on that last lap when I’d found my second wind. I knew better than anyone how he'd now be feeling.

I did it! Texting friends and chatting with Brett

Say what you want about Kona qualification but for the most part it continues to be hard and closely fought. My success or failure came down to less than 0.5% in the end.

To all my friends and family who offered advice and encouragement before the event, found me seconds in the pool or watts on the bike, supported me with equipment and cheered me on the course. I owe you big time. It wouldn’t have happened without you – it’s as simple as that.

And to Scott Whittlestone, the guy who wasn’t at roll down to collect his spot, who I later learned had already qualified at Ironman South Africa. The first beer is on me in Kona mate.

Everyone needs a bit of luck in this game.

In Part 1 of my Kona Qualification blog I asked the question “Is the final result alone worth all the stress and anxiety?”

I suppose the answer is.... “it depends”.

Ultimately, it depends on how much that final result means to you personally. The final result for me in this case was the opportunity to join my wife Claire and a number of dear friends on the beach in Kona as a competitor. And it meant a lot... A whole lot.

But here’s the rub. As well as those personal reasons for wanting to achieve something, there is also satisfaction in achieving something which is hard fought. And I believe that the fight is an essential part of the ultimate reward and sense of achievement. The reward, and the effort required to achieve it, are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other.

Or to coin a phrase... “without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain't as sweet”

And this will be different for everyone. Even if the result is the same.

A sub 20 minute park run might mean the world to someone. Kona Qualification might mean nothing to another.

But the moment I got my final result... the hardship it took for me to achieve it evaporated in a heart beat. The lump in my throat and the welling in my eyes told me how much it meant to ME.

So yes... all the stress and anxiety was 100% worth it.

Will I keep doing it? Probably not.

Because without the end result... it’s just isn’t worth it. The process itself isn’t enough any more.

I’ve experienced some incredible races in my time and there are many more adventures out there which are no less challenging (and plenty that are more so) than Ironman triathlon.

There are races which have an intrinsic pleasure and enjoyment that I’ve missed in recent years. They are worth doing just because they just are... not because of where you finish, or what time you do, or how many people in an arbitrary 5 year age band cross the finish line before you do.

So after 2017 I’m hanging up my Kona swim skin and heading off to find different and enjoyable sporting challenges (triathlons included of course!)

I reckon Kona and me are done – but it’s been something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

And I know what you’re all thinking....

That Duncan... he doesn’t half talk bollocks!

Massive thanks to everyone who has helped me this year....

Race Hub
Jack Maitland - The Triathlon Coach
Skechers Perfomance
Giant Bikes
Huub Wetsuits
CEP Compression
High 5 Nutrition
The Tri Hideaway
Pure Performance Coaching
Watt Shop
Performance Chef - Alan Murchison

My amazing wife Claire - who helps me dream big
My Awesome Mum
My brilliant training buddies

And George the wonder dog


  1. Well done! Will look forward to cheering for you in October, from S. America.

  2. .... brings it all back Dunc. So tight at the top with only seconds in it - You continue to amaze me with your hard work and inner strength