A pain in the @rse

My ‘A’ race for this season took place this past Sunday, and it will be a race that I’m never likely to forget, or indeed be allowed to forget. The ‘Monster Middle’ was a half Ironman that took place in Ely in Cambridgeshire, a city where my brother lives, so a great opportunity for a family get together. I got a personal worst time by 2 hours, and my run was a shockingly slow 2.49.14. It’s no wonder I finished second to last some 3.5 hours behind the winner. BUT I reached new levels of toughness or stupidity depending on how you look at it. Personally reflecting on events I think it was a bit of both.

I left the family watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and walked the half mile or so my brothers house to go and register on the Saturday evening. I was looking forward to meeting several online friends for the first time, who I’ve shared much banter with over the last 18 months. Deenzy, TRO, AJPAR, Battlecat and the Essex wideboy HOD. All thoroughly nice people in real life, great when that happens. Deenzy laughed at me when I said my sister-in-law was cooking Tea, apparently a very northern thing to say? Banter was given and taken and we went our separate ways with handshakes of luck, just in case we didn’t meet up the next day.

I was awake before my 5am alarm, creeping around the hotel room trying not to wake Em and Charlotte. I wolfed down a bowl of porridge, grabbed the bike and headed out the door for the Ely Smackdown, nervous and excited at the prospect of racing long.

Racked the bike, positioned the gear around it, got the wetsuit on and caught a coach up to the start. The swim was 1.9km upstream back to transition. The start was delayed by about 30 minutes, 250 athletes were unleashed upstream by the Mayor, and the Smackdown was on in a whirlpool of white water, arms and legs.

To be honest I had a fairly uneventful swim, avoiding the faster swimmers and much of the brutality. I came out of the water in a rather pedestrian 51 minutes, I was disappointed with that but swimming isn’t my strong point. Little did I know at that point that the best part of my race was now behind me.

There was a 1 minute “dead zone” where time would be deducted as we had to walk from the river bank down a very steep banking, before a good 300m run to transition.

Out of transition and onto the bike, I was feeling good, looking forward to the flattest and potentially the fastest 56 miles I’d ever ridden. The bike was in the big ring and my legs were turning quickly, 23mph, 89 revs cadence, heart rate 140. Perfect.

Ely Monster Andy Holgate

1.7 miles into the race

I passed our hotel at 1.7 miles and there as expected were my parents and Em and Charlotte shouting encouragement, I shouted back a cheery “Morning” and gave a thumbs up to show that I felt great.

Less than a minute later I was thrown forward with a jolt onto my tri-bars, my chest hitting the arm rests. What the hell just happened? Did I hit something? No, the road is smooth I thought. I was confused and then looked behind me, my saddle had gone.

There lying in the road was my saddle. I stopped the bike, and reached for my tool kit, thinking I could reattach it and get going. NIGHTMARE, the bolt had sheared off and the top saddle clamp was nowhere to be seen, presumably it had gone into the long grass next to the road. There was no way to fix this.

I had two choices: a) Turn round and quit or b) Try and ride without a saddle and hope for the best.

I had the idea that I could lean the saddle on the seat post and just grip it with my thighs keeping it in place, that turned out to be too dangerous. So it went in the back pocket and I rode out of the saddle, or on the seat post with an exposed screw ( see below )



I couldn’t get any power, I couldn’t use my tri-bars, I couldn’t change gear ( good job it was flat ) and I couldn’t corner properly. All thing that you need to be seated for. Eating and drinking was a nightmare, I had to keep stopping as I couldn’t balance the bike. The frequency that people passed me increased.

Several times I screamed out loud in frustration on the deserted Fen roads, only my laboured breathing replied. I was mentally retiring from Triathlon as the literal pain in my arse got too much. Then two things happened. One I was determined that I wasn’t going to let this freak incident get the better of me, no way was I recording my first DNF. Secondly I thought of my mates and the banter I’d face if I quit, I’d never live it down. They already had enough ammo for taking the piss out of me, I wasn’t giving them a full arsenal. I turned my legs and ploughed on.

At about 36 miles my family came past in the car, I flagged them down. I asked my dad if he had any cable ties in the car, he didn’t. I tried lashing the saddle with shoe laces, that didn’t work. I set off again and a mile down the road my dad stopped again. “I’ve got an idea. It’s not a solution but it might make things a little comfier.” He wrapped a tartan travel rug around the seat post offering me a little respite. Trust me it felt like a big comfy leather arm-chair after what I’d just been through. For the remaining 20 odd or so miles, I could get some respite. It still hurt, I’d lost skin and feeling in places that no man should ever have to experience.


The infamous Tartan rug seat post

As I prepared to get off the bike for the run I just kept thinking ” This is going to be a world of hurt!” My legs were shot after 54 miles of out of the saddle, stop/start riding. My left knee and Achilles were in agony having been forced to pedal at unnatural angles. surprisingly my hamstring that had been playing me up over the last few weeks was fine.

I got off the bike in 3.42.22, averaging about 16.8mph which is remarkable if you think about it. I couldn’t bend down to take off my cycling shoes in transition, I’d seized up. Eventually I managed to get going out on the run, and was passed by a fast finishing AJPAR about to finish his day.

T2 - ely smackdown

Can't bend down to change my shoes

I started to run / shuffle but it was just a futile attempt really. I was in agony, my legs were spent. Pride kept me moving for the first couple of miles whilst I passed spectators and the bulk of the field heading back to the finish. HOD passed me and shouted much-needed encouragement as he whizzed along heading for a pb. As soon as I got on the deserted roads I crumbled into a shuffle / walk strategy, the mind was willing, the legs weren’t. Pity as it was a cracking course, I’d love to run it under normal circumstances.

Heading back I was convinced that all my friends and family would have gone home as I’d taken so long. I also knew I had a good 20 minute lead on the last person, so I wasn’t going to be last. Again pride forced me to muster a run ( probably just a lukewarm shuffle ) the final mile. I was amazed that everyone had waited to see me finish. I grabbed my five-year old nieces hand and we crossed the line together.


I was met by the race referee, I asked about my bike, it had caused quite a stir in transition whilst I was out running. I declared the outside interference and expected to be disqualified. At that point I told him “I really didn’t give a sh*t” with a grin on my face. He just laughed and said it didn’t matter and congratulations on finishing, he wouldn’t have done.

So not the best day I’ve ever had, although I leant more about myself and my inner reserves I think. I’m still sore but hopefully I’ll be out on my other bike at the weekend,and I managed an open water swim on Monday. I can’t tell you how much the cold water helped my legs.

Yes it was tough, but probably also stupid, I had little control over the bike, and IF I’d crashed I probably risked being impaled by carbon fibre, something I did think about but dismissed. I couldn’t be that Unlucky in one day!!!

The way I look at it, best to get these things out of the way now before Ironman next year – I wouldn’t fancy riding 110 miles in Lanza without a saddle !


11 responses to “A pain in the @rse

  1. OMG! I’m absolutely gobsmacked! What an incredible effort!

  2. Good to meet you and well done. Hopefully if there’s another smackdown you’ll get some luck! AS you said, least it wasn’t during lanza….

  3. You have earned my respect. Coffee and cake on me when we meet. You have my email details when you need help reach out and ask.

    My best wishes


  4. Oh MY. No way I would have continued, I cannot believe you finished. I just read and LOVED your book by the way. I have described you as the “Bill Bryson” of the Triathlon world if you are familiar with his books. Anyway, I’m off to my first half IM in two weeks and I will be thinking of you for sure on the bike leg. Hope you are recovering well and thanks for your great writing!!

    • Hey Cortney,
      Thanks for the compliment about my book and as Bill Bryson is one of my favourite authors that really made me smile…lots !
      Good luck in two weeks time at the Patriots half in Williamsburg, Chesapeake Bay is one of my most favourite places in the world. Have a great race.

  5. Oh dear – at least you can now add Ironass to Ironman! Fantastic spirit to carry on after that so early on. Well done for the gritty finish.

  6. I just did a review of your book on my blog: http://unblob.blogspot.com/2011/08/book-review-cant-swim-cant-ride-cant.html. My blog also appears on http://www.tricrowd.com/.

    Gotta say, if I were given the chance to meet Macca, Chrissie, or you….hands-down it would be YOU!!

    Now get back to work on your next book 😉

  7. Pingback: Race Report: Patriots Half | endurancefilms.com

  8. Pingback: Patriots Half Race Report | Endurance Planet

  9. Sorry this is way out of date but got your book for xmas and one thing led to another and here I am at your blog..and the monster middle caught my eye as am considering making this my half ironman debut and have been trying to find out some inside info on the swim.Doing a river swim sounded appealing – terrible motion sickness which makes even swimming in slightly lumpy sea vomit/dizziness inducing…How much of a drag is it swimming upstream? The flat bike and run also appealing as going longer will be a challenge on my time constrained training schedule. How well organised was it? Thanks – reading about others exploits inspires me to get of my lazy arse and do some training.

    • Hi Simon,

      The Monster Middle was a great race, I mean I had a bad day but I still enjoyed it.
      The swim is ok, it’s a little bit harder swimming up stream ( I’m not the best swimmer ) but it wasn’t restrictive. Also there was plenty of clear water to swim in, and plenty of support on the river banks.
      It was very well organised, and they listened to our post race comments and made changes to the 2012 event, well marshalled, well signed etc..
      I’ve unfinished business with this race and will be back at some point, probably not this year, to have a go with a complete bike 😉

      Good luck with the training.

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