…And that makes us mighty.”
Nine months ago, when I first discovered there was such a thing as an Ironman, I used that quote (from Mel, in Firefly) to express what I thought it would be like to have completed one. Nine months. Didn’t realize it was that quick.
To recap the journey; I had just completed the Warrington half marathon, a 13.1 mile run. It damn near killed me getting up to speed for that. That was on the third of October. Then I started looking around for a bigger challenge. I somehow found out about the Iron distance triathlon. A 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile ride then a 26.2 mile run.
Sounds kind of impossible. (It feels it as well.)
I fancied that. Ultimate challenge and all that.
There were a few minor obstacles to be overcome. I couldn’t really swim and hadn’t been to the baths in about fifteen years. I hadn’t done any real push-biking since I’d got my car license. Running 13.1 miles was the very limit of my stamina.
I noted at the time that when I told people I was thinking of it all I got was mocked and derided. It was a big ask.
Undeterred by the lack of encouragement or ability I set to. First swim I couldn’t do 40m. That was with my head up. Then I was told I needed to put my head down. I couldn’t do more than a few strokes then without swallowing water or running out of air. I had to start to learn to swim. I persevered. Within a mere three weeks I had managed to get up to 60m with my face down before running out of air.
The bike/ run was not too bad for me. At my first attempt I managed to do a 56 mile ride followed by a 13 mile run.
Then it was just a matter of building up my distances. And getting a decent bike. And a wetsuit. And a bike with cleats. (Learning how to ride with cleats- falling off seven time in one ride!-) And shoes that fit in the cleats.
So, just time and money, really. (And more sweat and pain than you can shake a stick at!)
As part of my training I entered the Marazion half Iron distance tri. That was a disaster. I had to be pulled out of the sea. I’ve read since that panicking in open water is a common newbie reaction. Nothing like the shock of freezing cold water, not being able to breathe and thinking you are going to drown for instilling panic.
That didn’t do my confidence any favours. Nor when I went for an sea swim on my own to Liverpool and the tide was sweeping me out and I thought I was going to drown.
I could complain about the run and ride, but really that is just about pain and determination. If you set your mind to it you can get there. With the swimming if you are crap there is a very real danger you will die.
I ran the Lakelands trial marathon a few weeks ago with training in mind. It was the hilliest, hottest, toughest run I’ve ever done. But as long as you keep up on your nutrition you can get through it.
That was where I was up to; I’d done a 1.5 mile swim (in a pool), 112 mile ride and 13 mile run. Individually I’d swam (once) 2.4 miles (in the pool. not the same thing at all), had ridden 130 miles (‘cos I got lost, grrrr!) and had run a tough marathon.
I set off to Nottingham on Saturday. Ready as I’d ever be (without doing anything radical – like attending the two triathlon clubs that I’ve joined for a training/ coaching session!)
I was a bag of nerves getting ready. Running around, forgetting this, stumbling across that.
Finally set off. I got there (having only got lost a few times) and went to register.
“Have you got your photo’ ID?”
No ID, no race! It was way too late for me to go back home and get some.Did I have a credit card? Luckily I did. First heart-attack over. They issued me with race number, swim cap, goodies bag etc. I went to the mandatory pre-race briefing at three o’clock. It was supposed to last until three forty five, which would leave me with just enough time to put all my kit into the transition bags they’d given me and rack my bike before it all shut down at five.
The briefing was so full I had to stand in the corridor outside and try and hear what was being said. Not best helpful when he was apparently referring to slides. And he thought he was a comedian. He was still waffling at five to five when I started panicking again and left. I went back to the mighty Micra to sort all my kit out into the relevant transition bags (You have a bag for your swim/ ride transition, where you put all your riding kit so you just grab that bag after the swim, take off your wetsuit get your bike kit on, put your wetsuit in the now empty bag. The same for your bike/ run bag.) They also gave us a third bag, the use of which puzzled me.
I went to ask another competitor. He was a bit surprised that I didn’t know, asked me about it, so I said it was my first season. He seemed quite impressed by that, he’d been racing triathlons for eight seasons. He said “This is your first season and you are doing an Ironman? Let me shake your hand.” Which he then did.
Turns out the bag was for your civvies to change into when you’d finished and showered.
That was when I noticed I’d lost the swim cap they’d given me. Went to rack the bike then try and get another one. I was worried it might have been a numbered cap, and that they wouldn’t let me race. Got to the bike stand only to be told I had to put the official sticker on it first. Back to the car for said. Racked bike, begged another swim cap and was ready by four forty five! Plenty of time.
I had time to look at the man-made lake. About a 1½ miles long a few hundred feet across. If you’ve never looked at a straight line swim of 1.2 miles let me tell you it is daunting. And the wind was blowing something fierce.
I calmed down as I was looking for my hotel. As I was unpacking my kit I noticed I’d forgotten to put my trainers in my ride/ run transition bag and it was all locked down for the night. I didn’t know whether they’d keep it secure or allow me access on race day. STRESS!
I wanted nothing more than to get an early tea and go to bed. I had to be up at four twenty. When I tried to get to sleep I couldn’t because my heart was pounding in my nervousness and they had music on in the bar downstairs until midnight, then pissed-up revellers out on the front until gone one. I was up again before four so I reckon I had about two or three hours sleep.
It’s surprising how you forget about being tired when you are terrified. I got my wetsuit on and set off. I managed to get my trainers in my bag. Now it was just the doing of the deed to worry about.
We were all lined up on the ramp leading into the lake. At five to six they let us get in to the water. This was the moment or truth. I got in and was pleasantly surprised, the water was cold, but not freezing. At six we were off.
I was worried about sighting but luckily we were swimming the oblong of the lake in an anti-clockwise direction so as I took my breath (can only do it to the left) I could see the bank and judge off that. Thing were going swimmingly, as it were, until half way up the ‘out’ stretch. Suddenly I got a severed cramp in my calf. I stretched it off, but it was still a bit painful and more than a little worrying. Then the velcro strap on my Ironman watch came undone and my watch fell off (it’s an Ironman watch. For doing Ironmans. ffs!) I tried twice to hold my breath and rethread the strap, couldn’t do it. I swam whilst holding it for a little while, then gave up and shoved it down the front of my wetsuit. Then my goggles started digging in. By half way they were killing me. Luckily I was distracted from the pain by the onset of nausea. It was horrible. Trying to swim and take breaths whilst your body just wants to throw up. By the time I was halfway back I was having a terrible time. Pain and nausea. I was flopping about, no strength to my strokes and had no idea what time I was on. I was keeping myself going by promising myself I would throw up as soon as I got out of the water and had already resigned myself to missing the 2 hour cut-off point for the swim. I was suffering that much that I didn’t care. I was just going to get my kit and go home.
I got out of the water, a surprise 1.40:42, had a load of burps and was fine again. A rookie mistake, I’d tried a new nutrition drink that morning. It gave me a big ball of wind, hence the nausea.
Game on, then.
I stumbled into the transition tent and tried to attach my race number to my tri-suit. Getting four safety pins to work when you are shaking with the cold and piss-wet is not easy! I decided to risk it and just go out in my tri-suit, not the top I’d brought in case of cold weather. This meant my transition time was 17:15! Terrible!
The first few minutes of the ride were unpleasant, being wet and cold from the swim but the sun was out and I soon warmed up and dried out. The bike course was a 10 mile (or so) run out to a 30 mile-ish circuit, three laps, then back. They managed to find a reasonable hill to add a bit of challenge. Half way up the long 12% climb the organisers had put a sign up saying “It’s not a knitting club!”, which was amusing the first time but not so funny by the time you came to tackle it for the third time.
Because I was so slow in the swim (and not much quicker on the ride!) I was being lapped by the fast lads. One of whom stood up in his saddle and pissed himself, splashing me! That must have saved him a whole minute, the dirty bastard.
By the third lap I was extremely saddle sore. The aero position squashes all your soft bits into the saddle then proceeds to try and grate them away. TMI, but you have to appreciate it’s not pleasant! As someone said of pro cycling, “it doesn’t hurt less, you just go faster.”
I got through it in 6.54:56
Another lamentable transition of 10:10, then it was on to the run.
I had quite been looking forward to this, it is as near as I get to a strength. It was a good job I have trained in running, because that was an ordeal. The sun was beating down by this point and my legs just didn’t want to play. Out of pride I forced myself to run between the feed stations (unlike many who were just walking the marathon) but I did stop to take on energy gels and water. Ideally I should have snatched them on the run, but I just couldn’t. Anyway, I managed to run all the whole 26.2 miles, only stopping at feed stations. It wasn’t a great achievement but it is a source of personal pride. It would have been so easy to just walk it in. I knew I had plenty of time. Lots of other people were walking it, but I forced myself on.
In the end it was a bad marathon time of 4.28:57, but it could have been a whole lot slower, let me tell you!
At the end of the day I finished in 13.32:03, not spectacular but I had 17 hours to complete it, so not appalling.
My main fear was the swim. A well founded fear, as it turns out. The thing is, if I’d have got it right in the swim (good goggles, watch that stayed attached, not cocking my nutrition up, having the self belief to swim strong from the start) I reckon I could have easily knocked another 10 minutes off my time, and I could have saved another 20 in transitions if I’d have been prepared.
“Experience in a fight is what you gain shortly after you need it.”
I was so wobbly by the finish they had me go and sit in the medical tent until I got myself together. It was a hell of a day. Plus it was sunny all day. Good that I wasn’t cold on the bike, bad that I sweat like a bitch on the run and got badly sunburned. Ho hum. The pain I was in last night from my legs and sunburn was quite focusing!
Done now. I am an Outlaw. Technically I can call myself an Ironman (though I wouldn’t do so in front of a real Ironman, as their courses are all hills and tough as buggery). I said I could do it, and I damn well did! Never again. Probably.
Now I have to think of an ambition for next year. At the moment it’s a toss up between Emperor of the World or Jedi Master. Maybe both.
Outlaw / (generic) Ironman.