Firstly let me acknowledge how shit I’ve been updating this thing and for that i apologise but in busy times something has to give and quite frankly this is nothing more than an indulgence.
Today marks two weeks since i officially became an Ironman and it’s still settling in.
Before i get into the event let me wind the clock back about 5 weeks when i took part in Endure24 which is a 24 hour trail running event. People can take part as part of a relay team, a pair or even solo and essentially the event is based around how many of the 5 mile laps you can complete in the 24 hour period. This was the second time I’d done this event and it was to be the last main thing running wise i would do before the Ironman.
I was in a team of four and over the course of the event i managed 6 laps which is what I’d aimed for in order to get the miles through my legs without tiring them out too much and risking an injury so close to the big day. I was happy with my overall performance given that it fell on some of the hottest days of the year, so much so that I’m pretty sure i drank well over 6 litres of fluids during the event!
Due to my shifts i was forced to finish off my swim training in the pool and managed the distance but realised that being in the chlorine pit for so long was beginning to play havoc with my sinuses so again i was worried about catching a cold, etc so close to the event but fortunately this didn’t happen.
The bike went in for a full service and came out with a new chain, cassette and wrapped handlebars. A quick brick session found that it was running as smooth as the day I’d bought it so big thanks to the local bike shop for that.
Ten days prior to the Ironman i started my caffeine and sugar free stint which was absolute hell! Alcohol I can take or leave without any real problem but i have a real sweet tooth and i love my coffee so to say that i was rattling like a smack head withdrawing from heroin would not be far from accurate as i muddled my way through a set of shifts at work including nights! Why did i put myself through this i hear you ask? I’d seen it mentioned in some nutrition plan I’d seen and the science behind it is basically so that when you come to actually consume some sugar and caffeine during the event via an energy drink, gel or bar, etc then you’ll really feel the difference just like when you go without booze for a while and then have a night out only to find that you’re staggering around after just two drinks because your body’s tolerance has dropped so much. The best bit was a couple of days before the event when i got to carb load and thus stuff myself with all the pointless crap I’d avoided for months and months like white bread, etc!
Saturday, the day before the event, came and we were all packed up and set off to Bolton. The rules stated that you had to have registered by 1pm that day and this was clearly so that you were in their merchandise filled world. This theory was confirmed by virtue of the fact that you had to go through the merchandise store and by all the other retail stalls in order to get to the registration desk. I couldn’t help myself and ended up buying one of the cheapest tops that they had because all the clothing had the ‘m-dot’ log on it made up of all the names of the participants in that years event. It’s not every day you get your name printed on clothing without having to request it.
We eventually got to registration where i filled out the forms and signed the relevant parts, etc before receiving my wristband and race numbers along with a separate wristband especially for first timers like myself which was emblazoned with “I will become one”. This went well with the fact that prior to leaving our little boy in the hands of my mother at home he’d written “go daddy go” along my forearm in big letters to inspire me throughout the event. It’s funny but a few people came up to me having seen the wristband and wished me luck as well as offering various nuggets of advice such as ‘just keep going’, etc.
Next up was the race briefing which lasted an hour long and basically just repeated what had been emailed out several weeks before but i was surprised at how many people hadn’t read those rules and even more surprised at how few had actually recced the bike route despite all the hype around it apparently being so brutal. There were many rules but the mains that stuck out for me were the usual ones around no drafting on the bike section (i.e. no following another cyclist too closely) otherwise you’d be penalised with a time penalty or disqualification, no ‘nudity’ at all with the only exception being that upon exiting the swim you could remove your wetsuit down to your waist en route to transition. Littering would result in disqualification as would the use of headphones on the bike or run! Then the worst bit was announced, the cut offs. Essentially from the moment you entered the water you had 2.5 hours to complete the swim, 10.5 hours to complete the swim and bike and 17.5 hours to complete the whole event. If you didn’t make the cut off then you would simply be withdrawn! This had a lot of people worried due to the bike course being so brutal and containing just under 9000ft of climbing. The race director stated that as long you averaged at least 14mph you should be fine. When i recced the route I’d averaged around 15mph so this was gonna be a close one!
My wife and i left registration and went off to drop my red bag off at transition 2 before taking my bike to transition 1. It felt weird just leaving my stuff there knowing that the next time I’d get my hands on it would be in the midst of an Ironman. Dropping my bike off gave me another chance to view the lake that i would be swimming in the following morning and to say it looked huge would be an understatement and i had to do two laps!
I’d also managed to bump into a guy i know, Derek, from my brother’s running club who was taking part in the event for his first time just the same as me as well as a friend who i knew from work, Chris, but hadn’t seen in about 5 years as he’d moved to Shanghai and was just back in the UK to take part in the Ironman.
We headed back to our hotel for a lazy sit in the jacuzzi in order to try and settle the nerves, My wife made use of the steam room and sauna but i was that worried about dehydrating myself that i stuck to the jacuzzi but only for 15 minutes before getting out and having a light tea of steak and sweet potato fries with an alcohol free beer before heading back to the room, applying my race number tattoos, necking some beetroot juice and hitting the bed for 8pm. I don’t know whether it was the stress of the day or something else but i managed to fall asleep quite quickly which was an absolute blessing.
The big day
3am and my alarm went off, i jumped out of bed riddled with nervous energy and set about my usual routine of nervous toilet trip, breakfast and kit check. I had a decaf coffee just to feel like i was having some caffeine and a porridge pot along with an energy bar. My wife woke herself up and we headed out to the car. The drive to the lake was quick due to the time of day and the closer we got the more people we saw in the position that we were. I got dropped off on the road outside the lake and walked in to the start with a bunch of other athletes. One woman rode in nervously and was, apparently, a late entry so was rushing around trying to get sorted. I saw a girl in her 20’s sobbing into the arms of her parents as the nerves got to her and hundreds of others meticulously checking their bikes over which I couldn’t understand as why would you leave it so late to sort something out on your bike!? Despite checking my tyre pressures the day before i still picked up a track pump and went to check them again in case they had reduced overnight due to being left outside in the cold. The first track pump didn’t work and simply let air out so i picked up another one, this did the same and so now i was getting worried as time was ticking on and I’d just stupidly let me tyre down! Fortunately the third track pump worked and i got the tyres back to where they needed to be pressure wise which meant my mini panic was over. I noted that the guy next to me was going over his bike looking at every fine detail and really looked in the zone, no wonder as it would later transpire that this guy won the whole event!
I kicked my heels and wandered round the site killing time until i happened to bump into Derek. We both admitted how nervous we were about what was to come and lined up together at the 90 minute point at the swim start. The start operated on a ‘self seeding’ system so much like the start of your local 10k runs, you stand near the time you think it’ll take for you to complete that event. It seems that most people were being conservative and standing near the 90 min mark so this soon got busy. The weather was literally perfect, there was hardly any breeze which meant the water was still, for now, the temperature was about 19º and it was cloudy so no beating sun on us. The announcements began and the excitement rose until the klaxon went and slowly but surely the queue moved forward like a conveyor belt feeding more and more souls into the mouth of the lake. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the water and I’d been told that the lake was deep right from the off hence why they used a pontoon to get in and out of it. As i reached the waters edge i looked out ahead of me and saw ‘the washing machine’ as hundreds of swimmers made their way out into the lake. About 2000 people took part in the event. I leapt in and started swimming, front crawl, out towards the first marker buoy. The route was basically an isosceles triangle with the start and finish at the tip of the furthest point and the two marker buoys at the other two corners.
Things seemed to be going well and i actually remember thinking to myself “holy shit I’m doing it, I’m swimming at a decent pace with the rest of the pack and things seem to be going to plan”. Then WHAM! (Not the band) a load of water hit me in the face and mouth whilst i was trying to take a breath, i tried to shrug it off and keep going but then WHAM! (Again not the 80’s duo) another load of water straight down my throat! I was coughing and spluttering trying to spit the water out and regain my breathing but i just couldn’t, my mind went into panic mode and i was shit scared that i was in trouble. I put my hand in the air and summoned one of the support crew on kayaks across to me. I held on to the side whilst i regained my composure but in those few seconds my mind actually considered giving up and calling it a day, just taking off my timing chip and walking away rather than face the rest of that lake, it’d be so easy and i could just relax for the rest of the day. But then the rest of my head kicked in (if you’ve ever read The Chimp Paradox by Prof Steve Peters then basically my human took over from chimp. If you’ve not read it then i strongly recommend it, the author is the team sports psychologist to Team Sky/Ineos amongst many others) and i realised that not only would my wife not know I’d given up as she’d gone back to bed and was due to the spend most of the day in the hotel spa/gym tracking me on her phone until she’d come across for the run section, but that my son was expecting me to come back with a medal like when i do other events and all the other people that I’d bored with tales of my training for the past few months would be expecting me to finish and if i didn’t then it would all be for nothing. I gave my head a shake, let go of the kayak and set back off in the water with about 2 miles left to swim. The rest of the first lap was a mix of breast stroke and front crawl as the washing machine effect of all those swimmers in close proximity churning the water up had really thrown me and knocked my confidence. I exited the water at the end of the first lap with the clock being around the hour mark and on one hand my heart sank knowing i had to get back in the water but then on the other hand i realised i was half way through it and this was my worst discipline so with that in mind i launched myself into lap two. Most of the lead pack had passed me towards the end of my first lap and the pace they were going at compared to me was basically like the difference between walking and running. As a result of this the water was a lot calmer and less crowded during my second lap and so i was able to relax into my swim a lot more, my breathing settled down and i plodded on slow but steady. I finished my second lap around 15-20 mins quicker than my first.
I exited the swim with the crowd cheering and the smile growing on my face as I acknowledged the fact that I’d survived the swim and was on my way to my favourite part, the bike. I entered transition, grabbed my bag and ran into the men’s changing area where i joked with other athletes as i stripped off, daubed my groin area with a bucketload of chamois cream and threw my gear on. I did that awkward run that’s somewhere between being too fast to be classed as a walk but too slow to be jog, out to my bike and noticed that about 80% of the bike racks were empty. This hit my confidence and made me determined to make up for lost time on the bike and ensure that i hit that cut off time of 10.5 hours. When I’d ridden the route previously I’d been really disappointed by it given the amount of traffic lights, junctions, tight bends and points where you had to cross traffic. I wasn’t sure if the event would be on closed roads or partially closed, etc but I’d expected the worst and so was pleasantly surprised to find that the whole route was on closed roads. Right from the point of mounting the bike i started passing people (WARNING, this is the part of the blog where i blow my own trumpet but don’t worry normal service will return later on), i kept pushing and pushing and due to the closed roads i was able to take corners at speed and really lean in to them. I remember taking a corner at 30+mph and a few others that were honestly a gamble but they paid off. Nutrition wise i felt great and the great support from the crowds dotted all over the place really spurred me on. I finished the first lap on the bike and nearly knocked over a cop at the start of the second lap as he’d stepped out onto the course without looking which meant i had to shout at him to move but he took it the right way and jumped back onto the path. There was a small section of the route that went over cobbles and this was my first experience of them. Hopefully it will also be my last as i nearly lost my fillings rattling over those sodding things! As i carried on round the bike course i saw a few casualties which could just as easily have been me had i read one of the corners wrong. At about 70 miles i hit a hill that I’d battled up the first time around but this time i felt my energy levels starting to drop and a little voice inside my head told me to try and leave something in the tank for the run and so i actually got off my bike and walked up the steepest part of that hill for about 20-30 metres whilst polishing off an energy bar prior to remounting the bike and cracking on. I’d noticed that my speed had dropped down to 14.9 mph and was acutely aware of the need to keep pressing on so that’s what i did. I also found myself really getting into the event and every time i happened across a crowd of supporters i would cup my hand to my ear and ramp them up as the cheering really carried me on along the route. On the Bolton course there’s a renowned section known as Sheephouse Lane and at the top of it stand a group of former Ironman athletes dressed as wrestlers cheering on the participants so much so that their image had been used on this year’s medal. At the bottom of the lane was a pub outside of which a large group of people stood cheering the cyclists on much like something out of the Tour de France as they ran alongside you, patted your back, etc it was amazing. The second time around was even better as i knew that this marked the start of the last climb so again i wound the crowd up and cracked on up to the wrestlers who i waved and cheered at like an excitable child who’d just seen one of his favourite characters at a theme park. I raced downhill and through the last few miles stopping only briefly to zip up my cycling top that had blown open on the ride. The last stretch of the bike route ran parallel with part of the run route and i could see people already out on the run and wished i was one of them but consoled myself knowing that in a few minutes i would be. I swung up to the dismount line and was told to stop quick by the marshals for safety reasons and so the brakes got tested one last time. I hopped off the bike and ran into transition two whilst being yelled at by a marshal to zip my cycling top all the way up to the top as opposed to mid chest like it was, good job I’d not left it flapping like earlier otherwise I’d have been penalised for trying to keep cool. I racked my bike and grabbed my red run bag before getting changed and setting off on the run. Thanks to the crowds I’d averaged about 15 mph and made it to transition 2 with about an hour or so to spare before the cut off time. A check of the results later on would show that a large number of people didn’t make the time and were withdrawn which must’ve been so frustrating.
Throughout the bike I’d made a conscious effort to keep eating and drinking in order to keep my energy levels up and about 20 minutes into the run i realised that i must’ve eaten too near the end of the bike because my stomach still felt full which meant that the run felt uncomfortable and my legs were not thanking me for pushing hard on the bike. The start of every lap took you round the town hall before sending you either right to the finishing straight or left to continue your lap which broke your heart a little every time you had to turn left instead of right. The first lap was hard but i managed it and the crowd were fantastic as i picked up my first of four coloured wristbands to denote how many laps you’d completed but the second lap hit me like a kick in the nuts. My legs started failing me and my guts were in turmoil. I’d made a conscious decision to sip the supplied drinks rather than drink too much but then i had to start visiting the various portable toilets around the course. I struggled on and saw Derek a few times around the course, cheering him on each time as he looked a lot fresher than i felt. I also bumped into my friend Chris and ran a little with him before he carried on whilst i paid another visit to the toilet. During my third agonising lap i saw my wife near the finish line and gave her a hug and told her how pleased i was that i saw her. This lifted my spirits and i battled on to get wristband number 3. I started my fourth and final lap during which i reached the fork in the road knowing that the next i would see it I’d be turning right and pressed on. This was a hard lap and there came a point around 23 miles where i jumped into one of the portable loos, sat down and started to use the facilities just as the door opened and another runner stood in front of me, both of us shocked as neither of us expected this moment but here it was. He ran off and i just sat there laughing realising that the crowd could see me but i zero fucks left to give and this concern was way down on my list of worries right then as I finished off and struggled back to my feet. I could feel the end was practically in my grasp and continued to put one foot in front of the other (amazingly I’d got this far without any blisters or injuries although my knees were starting to ache like crazy) as i ticked the miles off. Finally i reached the fork and was able to turn right, I’d looked up into the stands and saw my wife and shouted to her that i wouldn’t be long but that i loved her very much before i summoned what strength i had left to power on down the red carpet. There was a guy in front of me due to finish and it suddenly struck me that i would be an absolute dick of the highest order to sprint passed him just at the finish line and thus ruin his finishers photo so I consciously backed off, let him cross the line and then enjoyed the moment as I finally got to hear those words “You are now an Ironman!”
I couldn’t face the food in the tent afterwards but a McDonalds on the way home helped sort me out.
This has been a long, painful, selfish for most of the time, monotonous journey with blood, sweat and tears along the way but I’d done it in just under 15 hours and was able to show my son the medal that he’d been expecting who, incidentally, thinks i won the whole event because it’s hard to explain how every person get’s one.
Just goes to show that even a short, asthmatic kid who’s crap at swimming and hates running can do it and so can anyone willing to push themselves hard enough.