So, ‘apparently’ the whole idea of writing a blog is to keep it updated regularly. I have to be honest, I thought it would be easier than it’s been. In the beginning it’s all fun but as with most things in life, soon the novelty wears off and it becomes a bit of a chore. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not really a chore to blog but when life becomes busy (who’s isn’t?) it’s one of the first things to be neglected. I have new found respect for people who blog regularly.
Why’ve I been so busy you ask? Well, I’ve had the small task of training for an Ironman and work has been incredibly busy. On the work front, I’ve been involved in a few exciting projects that I’ll be able to share with you fairly soon. I have to admit, being busy in these times is great. I know of a few agencies really struggling so I can’t complain about being busy.
And now for the fun bit, the UK Ironman!
I won’t bore you with the moans about rubbish organisation, race venue, etc as I don’t want to put a damper on an absolutely amazing race experience. As I mentioned, training for the IM took a LOT of my time. And not just my time. Make no mistake, training for this race involves sacrifices. Bucketfuls! I can’t thank my girlfriend enough for the undying support and encouragement she gave me throughout the training period. It’s tough living with an IM in training; all those early morning training sessions, lack of social events and early to bed on weekend evenings.
I stood (that should probably read ‘treaded water’) on the start line feeling great. My training was disciplined, structured and plentiful. Yes I was nervous but I knew I’d done more than enough training and backed myself to finish this gruelling event.
Swim (3.8km) – 01h03m56s
I always refer to my swim leg as ‘Hero2zero’. I love swimming and fortunately I find it quite easy. So, generally this means I come out of the water way up the field and spend the bike leg being pasted by Lance Armstrong wannabes on full carbon steeds. Being a confident swimmer I positioned myself just behind the pro athletes on the start line. After a bit of an irritating wait, the horn sounded and the water bubbled to life.
For me, the key to getting the swim right is to constantly talk to yourself and focus on all the individual areas that make up the swim stroke. Reach, pull, tilt head, take a breath in, push out hand next to your hip, breathe out slowly underwater and repeat the same thing many, many times. Obviously at times I’ll include, lift head, sight the buoy, etc. As well as remind myself to keep the legs kicking lightly. The swim is incredibly boring so by repeating this over and over, it kills time and makes the task fly by.
It was a two lap course so I checked my watch after the first lap and all seemed fine. Coming up to the water exit, I had to hold myself back. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and I’ve learnt from experience that pushing hard before the exit is dangerous. I’ll tell that story another time. Out and running over the timing matt I looked at my watch and was quite surprised that I hadn’t been quicker. (Rumour has it, the swim was slightly longer than the standard 3.8km it’s suppose to be.) I took my time on the 400m uphill section into T1. The tunnel of spectators cheering as I crested the hill was simply unbelievable. I just couldn’t stop smiling.
Bike (180km) – 06h13m36s
Grabbing Felty and hopping out of T1 to avoid the mud I was pleasantly surprised at the number of bikes still racked in transition. Maybe my swim wasn’t as slow as I thought. (I found out after the race that I came out the water in 56th place! Long live my Hero2zero swims.) With the swim out the way, I was ready to unleash Felty. I had to put this thought on ice though as the only major climb of the route comes after 4km. Suddenly the road went skywards. With cow bells jingling (it’s an Austrian/Swiss thing I think) and people cheering, Sheep Hill Lane didn’t prove too difficult the first time up.
The remainder of the lapped course was undulating with some white-knuckle descents and long fast flat sections. The wind was up so that slowed things down some but on the whole I felt like I was smashing up lap 1. The saying ‘Don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ was made for Ironman events I reckon. Nearing the end of lap 1, I hit a slight pothole and suddenly saw my seat mounted bottle cages overtake me. My first instinct was to just keep going, until I remembered that my two CO2 canisters (used to inflate a new tube within seconds) were screwed onto it. I couldn’t risk not having them so I pulled over, unscrewed the canisters, popped them in my pocket and handed the broken bottle cage to a friendly blonde spectator. This now left me with only one aero bottle of juice on the front. Luckily there are many feed stations on the course so I knew I’d just have to keep decanting drinks I picked up into the aero bottle. Drama over, I came around to complete lap 1 in a respectable time, well within my target of 30km/h.
Sheep Hill Lane round 2 was OK, although the chalked slogan on the road ‘Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever!’ was now slightly more faded since I rode over it the first time. I guess I was in a similar condition. In my head I always knew the second lap would be the worst, mentally. The thought of 180km is too much to think of at once when I’m on the bike so I just kept thinking three laps of 60km. Doesn’t that just sound so much easier? Lap 2 seemed to last forever. Partly because my back was in absolute agony (think bamboo under your fingernails type pain) and trying to stretch it regularly slowed me down a little.
Then the defining moment of the whole race happened. A guardian Angel rode up next to me. We chatted for a bit and then he inquired ‘Are you feeling hungry?’. One of the biggest challenges of the IM is getting nutrition right. I clearly hadn’t and was beginning to feel like the bonk was around the next bend. So when asked if I was hungry, the response can’t actually be repeated here in the fear that my mother might actually read this. The Angel then asked ‘How would you fancy a ham and cheese sandwich?’. I think my face gave him the answer he was looking for, for suddenly I had a white bread, ham and cheese sandwich in the palm of my hand. I literally inhaled it. I swear I will never eat another ham and cheese sandwich that will ever taste as good. Full stop.
I owe my race to you Angel and the only regret (maybe another should be not taking my own food in the first place) of the entire race is not getting your race number to thank you later. You embody the Ironman spirit. I salute you Sir.
With the sandwich in the tank, it gave me the confidence to push on. Sheep Hill Lane round 3 is best not remembered. Finally I was at the 150km mark, knowing now that I only had another hour left on the bike. To be honest, I did think at times on the bike that I might not finish the race. When your back’s cramping and you’re feeling blown, the thought of having a marathon to welcome you after T2 is enough to make a grown man cry. The idea of curling up into the foetal position under a hedge on the side of the road certainly entered my mind. This is when I remembered all the family and friends that were willing me on to finish. I couldn’t let any of you down, could I?!
With 2km to go I felt a pinch from behind and knew without looking that it would be my best mate and training partner, Beloki. It was a major mental boost to have stayed ahead of him for so much of the bike leg (he normally catches and passes me on the bike) but at the same time I wondered if maybe I’d gone out too quick on the bike. Oh well, the run would answer that question.
Run (42.2km) – 03h59m43 (Sub 4, that’s sweet!)
Running out of T2 with Beloki was great. It was awesome to be off the bike and my back was loving it. Beloki has the tendency to get over excited at the start of runs so I knew he’d be pushing the pace from the moment we left T2. I happily dropped off the pace and continued to race my own race. Organisers of Ironman events sure know how to test the mental strength of athletes. Most IM run courses involve laps, and this was no different. Long, undulating laps, without mile markers! That’s enough to break James Bond’s mind. The crowds were superb and I made a point of thanking spectators for the support. This didn’t last long. Not because I didn’t want to, but I needed to use every ounce of concentration just to keep one foot in front of another. Digging deep has a new meaning. I’ve read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and Haruki Murakami explains brilliantly how on a run your mind enters a void where you think about everything and nothing at the same time but once you’re finished the run you can hardly remember thinking about anything. This sums up my run perfectly. All I know is that most of my thoughts were horrible, dark and unpleasant. It’s probably best I can’t remember. I do remember thinking once, ‘SH*T this is tough!’.
Somewhere along the line I caught back up to Beloki and it was quickly decided that we’d cross the finish line together. Mates’ oath. I remember telling Beloki that he could go on without me if he was feeling strong but he declined and we continued to shuffle along, side by side. Running into the park for the final loop, we saw a mate Jaaps, who told me that my girlfriend, Barbs, was waiting at the finish. Just the lift I needed. Leaving the park we heard shouts of ‘Half a mile to go…’, ‘You’re looking strong fellas…’, etc, etc. Another huge lift and relief.
Rounding the final corner, I heard a kind lady say it was the final corner of the race. And then I felt nothing. I’m talking pain. It simply evaporated out of my withered body. It was as if I was floating. No lies. At that point in time, running was effortless. In my head I was running quicker than Usain Bolt. At the Olympics.
Ahead on the right I saw a huge South African flag and knew it was Barbs. It still gives me shivers thinking about it now. Her smile was beaming and I could see she had wet eyes. I stopped next to her, hugged her as hard as my feeble arms possibly could and planted a massive kiss on her lips. With an ‘AHHH!’ from the surrounding crowd I took the flag and continued my way towards the red carpet finish chute. The rest is a blur.
Beloki and I crossed the line tie in 11 hours, 30 minutes and 49 seconds. 165th place out of 1,500 odd that registered the day before.
To Barbs, Beloki, my family, friends and colleagues that supported me throughout the entire training period and race, I can’t thank you enough. Only once you’ve endured an Ironman will you understand just how much it means. It’s truly an amazing experience.
Will I do another?
I can’t wait!