Thursday, 01 August 2013 23:21

Jolly June

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The first Monday in June was to be a baptism, literally. My mentor for this Ironman journey is a guy named Paul McKenny who has given me loads of hints and tips, after all, I blame him for getting me involved in this whole adventure. Monday night he had organised a few guys to go for a dip in Coniston Water as the first open water swim of the season. The other 3 guys were all experienced tri-athletes who have several ironman races between them, and then there was me. I class myself more as an afflete, someone who does the training but not to focussed on results, after all, I’m getting too old to keep up with the young whipper snappers nowadays. Keeping fit, enjoying events and bumping into friends old and new is what it is about for me.

Sorry, I digress, back to Coniston. We all got suited up and paddled in. Because there was 5 of us (and, I suspect because this was my first time), Paul’s wife Janet was in a kayak, just in case! It was very cold, I mean take your, breath away cold, and this was with a thermal rash vest, wet suit and two swim hats on. We all set off together and I soon realised that there was a lot more to this open water swimming lark than meets the eye. It’s not just a case of getting in and swimming as you would in the pool, oh no, the cold seeps in and really messes things up. Within about 5 minutes I was struggling to breathe, out of breath and cold. I just couldn’t see how I was going to swim 2.4 miles in August if it was going to be like this. I couldn’t go on and had to stop. All the other guys had swam on ahead but Paul had been shadowing me and when I stopped he knew I was in trouble and gave me the best pep talk I’ve had in my life. Basically calm down and breath – very important that last one, concentrate on breathing. Get that right and everything else would fall back into place.

I set off again with those words ringing in my ears and after a few minutes I began to settle down into a rhythm. I got to the turn around buoy and had a brief rest and then set of back. I felt a lot more comfortable now but was still getting out of breath and struggling to keep up. Finally, I had clawed my way to the exit point. I was knackered and when I tried to stand up I was wobbling all over the place. Paul, still in motivational gear said something like “Don’t worry about that, someone will grab hold of you and drag you out at the event”. Oh well, that’s OK I thought!!!

The following weekend I was to run The Hardmoors Marathon. Kevin had come down to stay for a couple of days and on Friday we went out for a small run. When I say small, I mean about 15 miles. We had a lovely run but perhaps it wasn’t the best thing to do within 48hrs of a marathon. On Sunday, we set off for Yorkshire at silly o’clock, arriving some 45 minutes before the start. We quickly registered, got our numbers and sorted ourselves out. We popped down to the village hall where my bowels had decided that it was time to be evacuated. Great. I popped into the loo, had a pooh, and emerged to the sound of the race starting, for once excellent timing on my behalf. Bowels empty I felt great and trudged off up the first hill.

Oh, by the way, the first hill was about 8 miles long rising steadily all the time to the ridge line. The views were fantastic all the way and the weather was breezy but nice and sunny. Once we were beyond the first 8 miles the route was gently undulating circumnavigating around the valley heads. We eventually dropped down into a valley at about 20 miles and were immediately confronted with a major league hill. It was a stinker, literally, through mud and then onto a dried track all up a steep incline. The good thing was that we thought that we only had a couple of miles left to go. Oh how wrong we were!! Once over the last brow we continued on to the last checkpoint where the marshal cheerfully informed us that we were about 6 miles from the finish. Really, I thought, we should be done in about half that. We plodded on and turned towards the village in the distance. The moor land here had become over grown with heather but at least it was predominately downhill which was a good thing on tired legs. The 26 mile point bleeped away on my garmin and I thought to myself “Erm, long way to go to the village yet” Eventually, after some 28.5 miles the finish appeared which was a very welcome sight although having said that the legs felt OK and I still had some running left in them.

Two weeks later and I found myself in Pooley Bridge on the shores of Ullswater. This was to be the venue for my first attempt at a tri-athalon. Here I was a complete novice on my own about to take on a tough course surrounded by guys who were tweaking bits on bikes and messing around with wheels whilst I stood there scratching my backside. I was as they say a tad nervous.

The previous week Paul and some other guys had done a little training tri around Coniston which for me had gone well. I had felt a lot more confident and comfortable on the swim, two of the guys didn’t even attempt it as they said it was too cold. We had a gentle transition on to the bikes, by gentle I Mean a coffee and Jaffa cakes, and set off on the bikes for 30 ish miles. I struggle a bit to keep up with the guys towards the end of the ride but was pleased how it had gone. These guys are all keen cyclists were as I had only bought a decent bike at the end of March. Again after another gentle transition we set off for a run around the lake, which went very well. All in all some valuable lessons learnt which were about to be put into practice.

Paul was away on holiday but he sent me a good luck text. I replied that I was somewhat nervous and was, how shall we say, in dire need of several bowel movements. His reply that, that was normal settled me down and I suited myself up and went to the briefing. I was like the teacher’s pet listening intently to every word that was being said, The words “choppy”, “windy” and “might shorten the swim route but will decide in 10 minutes” struck me as slightly worrying. As it happened the safety guys decided that although it was a bit rough the swim would remain, relief or not, I just wanted to get on with it now and test myself out.

I was starting in the last wave, yep, you’ve guessed it, the slowest wave. This didn’t bother me as I just wanted to take my time and feel my way into it. The first few minutes were like being in a washing machine, arms and legs flaying all over the place, but eventually it all settled down and I found myself in a bit of space and able to swim my own race. The first leg was into the wind and fairly choppy but once we had turned around I could feel the wind pushing me along. I was beginning to pass some of the swimmers who had set off in the previous wave and felt was pleased with how things were going. I finished the swim, which I found out later was in 41 minutes, so I was pleased with that.

Next up came the bike 58 miles of bliss, er no, not really. The ride down the lake to the bottom of Kirkstone Pass was into the wind and hard work. I was trying to take it easy at this stage as I knew what was to come. Kirkstone Pass is, as the name suggests one of the passes in The Lake District and as such is a steep long drag to the top. From memory I think it stands at 1450ft above sea level. I was glad to summit the climb as in my mind that was one of the tough parts over with, there followed a nice downhill stretch and flat road to the bottom of Shap. This is another long, long climb that although is not as steep as Kirkstone, just goes on for mile after mile. Fortunately the wind was now behind us and going down the other side I was reaching speeds in excess of 40 mph with very little effort, happy days. The last 15 or so miles seemed to flash by on slightly undulating roads and before I knew it I was back into transition for the run.

After a quick bite to eat, pee stop and change of footwear I set of on the last leg, 13 miles of fun!!!! Most of the run was off road which normally means one thing, HILLS. It did not disappoint, after the initial mile or so just to get the legs moving the road turned into track and pointed upwards at a rather alarming angle. The problem was I knew that this one was a mere babe compared to what was to come. Once on the flat and downhill I began to make up places as my running endurance began to show through, but I was tired. I had been out all week running and cycling notching some 200 miles+ in training and it was beginning to tell. At about 6 miles the mountain of doom was before me. This was to be a strictly walking part and everyone around me seemed to be having the same idea. If I had a pair of crampons I would have put them on for the hard slog up this little beauty. Another 1400 ft ascent and I was on my way back down, but the descent was difficult and dangerous in places, so taking it easy on tired legs was the order of the day. The last 3 miles was all on that tarmac stuff, which was nice but did seem to go on for ever, a sure sign that you just want to reach the end.

Job done, and considering the profile of the course I was pleased. I had set myself a target time of 7hr30mins and was chuffed to bits to come in at 6hrs56mins. A good day to round of a good month of training. Dare I say it, things were looking good for the Ironman in a few months time.

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