For the last year these words have been an aspiration of mine, and now I can proudly say “I am an IRONMAN “.
Many of us talk about the sacrifice the family make for us to become an Ironman, and this is something I really appreciate of my family. I have not done the level of training traditionally required for this achievement, but I have still had the support of my family whilst I have put in my early morning weekend miles. So it was really important that my family came with me to share the special day. With an Ironman in Weymouth I took the opportunity to book our first Haven holiday at littlesea. This was my opportunity to give a little back to my family, so although a lot of the weekend was spent doing all things Ironman, we made the most of what Weymouth had on offer.
The weekend started with the first adventure of packing my wife, two children, kit and bike into the car and travelling to Weymouth from London. I am never going to get used to the bike being on top of the car, and this is something that made me very nervous.
It was our first trip as a family to Haven and first time in a caravan, and we were really happy with what we arrived to. If anyone is thinking about accommodation for this event I recommend this. It was much more specious than we realised, with two bedrooms, an ensuite, and separate bathroom with a large living space. After unpacking it was time to get Ironman ready. By this time I must have been annoying my wife with my excitement to go to the expo, it’s not started until you have been to the expo right?
The expo delivered against expectations. So it’s not the same as something like a high profile marathon such as London Marathon expo, but it had lots of event specific kit, the key items you would be looking for, and was large enough to satisfy your needs, and big enough to lose Benjamin when he decided it would be funny to run off. I received my “free” event bag that I have been waiting for, and it did not disappoint. Although, it was slightly disappointing that it did not have any goodies inside of it (I knew what to expect). All the staff were friendly and the whole thing had such a great atmosphere.
We timed our visit to the expo so we could go immediately to the briefing afterwards. This is a “compulsory” briefing, however no one checked me in, so not really compulsory. However, well worth attending. Firstly, as a first timer there was some useful information, but more importantly the atmosphere was amazing.
After the briefing we went to go for food. I was going to use the 12.50 voucher we received instead of the pasta party, but we could not find anywhere that participated. This was a little annoying, as this was a great idea to involve the local community, and good PR after the bad times “challenge” had with this event. But did not feel that they actually wanted us to use the voucher, as there were no details of where to use them, and they expired on Friday (baring in mind many did not turn up until Saturday). It did not bother me too much though as it was an extra and I would not have hung around for pasta party anyway preferring to spend time with family. We were not too hungry so we just went back with some pizza and purchased a DVD for the boy, a lovely end to the evening.
I decided that we would spend as much family time as possible today, so I thought I would get racking out of the way early, so we would have the rest of the day to ourselves. I had navigated the various bags the night before so this was all ready. It was strange (as a runner) having to prepare bags and leave them the day before… I was anxious knowing I could not access bags until after the swim… So much to consider and I almost forgot to pack trainers. I am lucky I had my flip flops as I had not considered needing to check in my trainers the day before, and usually wear just one pair on holiday. All this is good experience for next time. So I went and racked my bike, and once again was impressed with the organisation and obvious attention to detail by Ironman. I knew my stuff would be safe.
I spent a lot of the day worrying about the weather. I was already nervous about the bike, knowing it was hilly, and my longest training ride was only 56 miles, I knew I was under prepared. The weather was terrible and this could take away precious time on my bike, I would be taking care not to come off and I know I would be over cautious in the wet. And what about the sea swim? I had never trained in the sea, already worrying about things others had told me… What if I get sea sick, panic in the water, how would the waves impact on my swim? What if it was that bad they cancelled the swim… I would not be an Ironman??
Alongside my anxiety and “Tweets” about the weather, today was family time. We had a great day in Haven, we swam, we played in the arcade, and had a lovely meal onsite. I was surprised that the food was much cheaper than I expected, and really good. One big negative… It sold the beer and cider I like, and with my first attempt I wanted to be clean the couple of days before. ??
I knew that I should try and have an early night, but this would be our only opportunity to enjoy the evening entertainment and I did not want my family to miss out. So we spent the night before my Ironman enjoying the “seaside squad”. I also decided a cheeky shandy wouldn’t hurt, but just the one!
We did not get back too late and my wonderful wife volunteered to sleep in the other room with the kids so I would get a chance to sleep. To put this in context, we never get much sleep with our little monsters and they end up in our bed. So the night before the ironman I had the bed to myself…
Sunday – Event day:
With my alarm set to 3:30am, I woke up and started fuelling. My taxi was booked for 5:00am, but I wanted to start getting some fuel in me ready for what was to come. It was odd, I was nervous but I did not get the same upset tummy I usually get before an event. I looked outside and it was pitch black, and cold. I got myself ready and just laid in bed waiting for my taxi, it was finally here, no more talking, I was going to take on 140.6…
When I arrived nice and early I checked my bike, everything was OK. I swapped around my racking to seat post as I had been asked to rack by handlebars because of the weather the day before. I put my bottles on my bike, and I was ready. I looked around at the hundreds of people there, many pumping up tyres, and checking over their bikes… I looked down at mine, a fraction of the price of everyone’s around me, the bike next to me had more expensive wheels than my entire bike… But my little princess (something I named my bike during the bike course) looked fine.
I made my way to the swim start and dropped my bags. I was ready and as the sun rose I could tell it appeared to be a complete contrast from the day before. Today would be beautiful…
All of a sudden I was lining up on the beach ready to start. It was a painful start standing barefoot on the pebbles, it was a friendly atmosphere once again as I talked to fellow competitors. I lined up slightly further forward than I wanted, but it was absolutely fine, it was time to see if I would “sink or swim”.
As I ran into the water and got myself into the English Channel I realised that it was actually warmer than the outside temperature. I took this opportunity to relieve myself, so my wetsuit was especially warm ?
It was not as brutal as I expected, in fact out of the three triathlons I have done this was actually the least congested. The rolling start helped and I must have seeded myself fine. Yes I was overtaken a lot, but I wasn’t in anyone’s way. The water was dark and salty, but waves were minimal, it actually felt like a lake swim once I was going. Sighting was fine and I stayed out of people’s way. I did not try to go too fast wanting to save myself for the bike, but I just kept motoring. They swapped the direction of the swim last minute and as we turned right at the buoys it got a little congested, and I had to stop at the first buoy and get back into my stride. All went really well, a few taps but nothing significant until we approached the exit. All of a sudden it felt like there was a mad rush from some, and someone swam right in front of me and kicked me in the face… This was frustrating and I thought “what’s the point”, but I was ok. The first experience of the “Aussie exit” was interesting. I stopped too short then the waves and shelving pushed me back, I lost time here, but there was a mat to protect our feet whilst we travelled to start again. I felt fresh, but was envious of the 70.3 guys going to T1… I had to do that again.
I was relaxed in the second lap. I forced out a second pee, wondered how I was doing, and sang to myself “just keep swimming, just keep swimming … Swimming swimming “.
It was a little grabby at the buoy again, but it did not take long until I was approaching the exit. I swam closer to shore this time, but the shelving was hard to manage and it took a couple of attempts to get out of the water. I would later find out that I achieved a time of 1:27, well on target. I knew when I started the bike I was on target, but could not be sure of exact times because of the rolling start and no clock on course. It was a long transfer to T1. It was a few hundred metres so this impacted T1 time, but sub 8 minutes is absolutely fine. I took my time, but actually felt great. Now I have done this, I know I can push myself a lot more in the swim. I am not the best swimmer in the world and don’t kick (at all), but the wetsuit and event conditions clearly help my form. I think if it were not for the Aussie exit and difficult sea exit I could realistically take my time to sub 1:20, something I had not even considered possible before this event.
As I ran with my bike to the mount line I knew this would be the biggest challenge of the day for me. Out of all the disciplines I was least prepared for this, I am not great on the bike and don’t have time in my life to put the hard miles in. My bike felt good, and the weather was beautiful, if anything on the hot side, but this was preferable to the rain the day before. I had a bike pouch full of gels, gels in pocket and a second inner tube in back pocket… I was as prepared as I could be.
The course was long and hard. There were a few steep hills (and doing the full course I had to do it all twice), but the main difficulty was that it felt like I was constantly on an incline. The inclines were long and continuous, and the downhill were short and sharp. I actually think turning the course around might make it easier.
I spent the whole course thinking about what was to come, constantly reevaluating my strategy and towards the end talking to my bike. I was thinking of others I know who have named their bike, and before I had finished I found myself saying “come on princess we can do this”… Princess, ok my bike is a girl, don’t think I would like to ride a guy for 7:45 hours.
On the whole the course was really beautiful. Most of the road surfaces were smooth, with a few exceptions, there were lots of marshals out who were all very friendly. There were plenty of spectators to cheer people on, and with the 70.3 running simultaneously there were plenty of competitors around that there was always someone in sight. There was one short section on the bike that we got warned about, and if they can they would benefit from changing. You have a short out and back on the same road, and owing to the direction you change from the left to the right hand side of the road. This was also a narrow road, with the first aid station on it. As I approached this for the first time some competitors were shouting to a marshal that there had been an accident. This marshal is a star, regardless if he helped or not, his intent was spot on, he started running up the road to the crash site… Top fella!
The two involved seemed fine, I don’t know how the rest of their race went, but I spoke to someone who had seen it, and it was because of the confusion of which side you overtake. Some were overtaking on outside still, others on inside. To be honest I’m not 100% sure what we were supposed to do, but there certainly was not much room to overtake and there were some good speeds in this section. The aid station became a real hazard too, especially on the second lap, there were too many discarded water bottles in the road with very little room to manoeuvre. This is the only criticism I have of the whole event.
Marshals were great, those at the aid station did such a good job getting us the fuel we needed. I just found it hard. I don’t think I necessarily slowed towards the end, I just realised fairly early on that it was a course that I was going to be much slower than I hoped, so I quickly worked out what I needed to do just to finish in time, and stuck with it. It is frustrating, there were a few really fast sections, and when flat or slight decline I was riding at a 17-18 mph minimum, but there were just so many long inclines that really knocked my pace so much. But I am proud, very proud that I cycled it all… From the time I clipped in, until the finish, I stayed on my bike. I must have (especially on the second lap) seen atleast 30 people pushing their bike up the bigger hills. Now I could have walked some of these sections faster, but I stayed on my bike ? I don’t blame others for getting off, it was hard, but I was determined to carry on.
What made it harder for me was that I had messed with my bike the day I left for Weymouth. My nerves led to me checking everything was tight, and stupidly without thinking I tightened the screw of my front derailleur. I immediately realised what I had done and loosened it, but was not sure if it was right. I did not have time to check, and I don’t usually use the small gear anyway. On this hilly route I did not use the front small gear, and this may have eased the hills for me. I did not risk changing it just in case I had a malfunction… I considered how I would feel trying to start again up a hill, or worse, what if I snapped the chain… All of course very unlikely, but I thought I would rather a tough climb, than sacrifice my race. Any mechanical would have significantly delayed me without help.
I also saw dozens of people fixing punctures, and a few getting mechanical support. I am so glad I did not have anything to make my race harder, I know this would have taken a lot of my time and made continuing so much harder. If I did have a mechanical it was reassuring to see the support car drive past a few times and know that help was probably near by.
Some other graphics for the course… Have you ever tried peeing whilst cycling??? If not please try, this is much harder than you would think, the concentration needed was intense. I did not want to risk getting off for fear of not being able to start again, and 112 miles is a long way. There were supposed to be toilets at aid stations but to be honest I never noticed them. I saw others pulled over to the side of the road having a pee, and I did not want to risk DQ. So it was a dry day, but my princess had a few showers, and is now in need of a good wash.
I didn’t for a second think I would not finish the bike course. I was hoping I would not tire and slow, and knew my pace was already affected, but at no point did I slow because of fatigue… I finished strong. During the later stages it started to drag, and I was feeling a little fed up, but I finished and pulled up to T2 in 7:45. Much slower than I had hoped, but I had done it, my biggest worry about the day and it was over. At this point I knew I would be an Ironman. I thought I could probably just about fit in a 12:30 finish with a strong run, and I actually felt fresh… I could do this.
When I dismounted I got a huge shock to the system. I almost fell as the bike held me up, and I could not straighten my back. I pushed my bike to racking and proceeded to T2, knowing I’m prone to a bit of lower back pain I dismissed the warning signs and thought I would run it off. I felt really good, ate a mars bar I had stuck in my bag and I was off in exactly 5 minutes. I also emptied my back packed with all my empty gels (following IM rules, although hundreds clearly did not care by the amount of packets on course). This was an unpleasant experience with a very sticky back pocket and bum.
I was actually really looking forward to the run. I am a strong runner and I knew I could get motivation from the crowds and I could start overtaking people… This was mine to smash! I started with a sore back, but surely this would not matter too much.
So I started to run and immediately had to stop, I thought I would take this opportunity to use the portaloo that I was bent over next to. I came out and started again, but wow I have never had such bad back pain. I thought maybe I would take some time to bend over and stretch, but as soon as I bent forward the pain increased tenfold. It took me a while to stand up straight again and I had such shooting pain… At this point I pretty quickly structured my own expectations, yes I would make sure I would be an Ironman, but this was not going to be a quick run. I started to put one foot in front of another, running with a straight back, every step a painful one.
I knew this would be a flat course, and the views were beautiful. I was to pass the finish line 5 times before becoming an Ironman, and I thought this would be good, but it also meant that I was continuously seeing people with more bands than me becoming an Ironman, hearing the infamous words, and knowing I had to go again, and again. As a runner I found this very frustrating, my legs were fine, I was not exhausted, I had fuelled well, everything was good, except my back, but that was enough to stop me moving. I was barely able to stand up straight so running a marathon was going to be hard work.
This part of the race was good as the run route was full of spectators, such great crowd support. On my first lap people were shouting “you can do it” “almost there”, when considering what I had done they were right, but then I thought, the idea of almost being there and I had just started a marathon, when I could barely stand up, this was crazy. Another positive of the multi lap route meant I passed many others, I overtook some and some overtook me, but all on different laps, and many of us exchanged words of encouragement.
I had been longing to see them, and I had being hoping that they were having fun. I was worried that I was ruining their day by taking too long, and worried about the children misbehaving or getting bored, so many emotions. The second time I saw my family I could not hold back the tears, I was an emotional wreck, and my wife was the trigger… And my poor boy asking “daddy why does your back hurt, is it better now”. It turns out that I need not have worried, as my support crew had an amazing time without me ?
The run was a long and painful one, but soon I forgot my back pain, and stopped worrying about times. I just kept a good steady pace and kept going, I walked aid stations to take on fuel, but the last lap I could not take any more. I did not hit the wall, I was not fatigued because of my legs, I was just mentally exhausted and ready to stop, I kept going, I got the red band, then the blue, then the green, then when I got the final yellow I picked up glow sticks as it was now pitch black… All the best people finish in the dark right?
I kept going and as I was approaching the end I could hear that Paul kayeman had taken over the mic. I passed a few people in the final stages and checked what lap they were on, one guy was also on his final lap, so I asked if he wanted to go first or second. After travelling for over 14 hours I was not prepared to ruin my finishers photo to compete with someone at the finish. He told me to go ahead so that’s what I did, and I sped up to 7 min miles, my legs were still fresh and I had a burst to clear away to be on the carpet on my own. As I turned the corner I could not make anyone out, the contrast of the pitch black and the floodlights in my eyes, all I could see was the finish and that was it…