Sunday, 11 August 2013 22:17

Ironman UK

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I make no apologies for the length of this blog. This event has been on my mind for the best part of a year!

The more observant amongst you may well have noticed a slight hiccup in the order of things. I have decided to miss July, or rather be very brief about July. The weather was hot, very hot. I ran just the one marathon at Coniston over the trails. A lovely run with wonderful views over the lakes and fells. Met up with some marathon buddies and slogged it out in the heat. My time was terrible but who cares, it was a great day out.

Now then, to the main event, Ironman. This year for me has been all about reaching this event in good nick and injury free to give it a go and hopefully finish in a reasonable time. From the outset I always knew that beating the cut off at various points around the course was going to be the main priority. A few weeks ago I revised my goals to not just finishing but perhaps at best finishing with a 14hr in front of the time. I thought if things went well then that was a doable goal.

Trudi and I arrived in Bolton at lunch time and I went to register at the stadium. Here you are “tagged” on the wrist which has your race number on and is the key to allow the athletes into transition areas and swim practice at Pennington. This is where we went next for the Friday practice. It was a bit delayed due to safety reasons but we eventually got wet and did a couple of small laps. It was great to get in and get a feel for the environment, a bit murky but nowhere as near as cold as Coniston. Next up was a briefing for novices at the Reebok stadium at 4pm which I just about made. This was basically re-iterating what had already been sent to us about the event and the course and going over some of the more pertinent points, ie don’t litter, no family members in the finishing shute, and no drafting amongst other things, all of which are punished with a nice big fat DQ by your name.

The following day I had to drop off my transition bags and bike. First we went to Rivington high school which was to be T2 (transition 2 - bike to run change). I dropped my bag off and we were giving a briefing here on how the transition would work and where the feed station would be. Next we went back down to Pennington and dropped my bag here for T1 (transition 1 - swim to bike change) and also racked the bike. Again were told the flow of the transition and I walked around it a few times to make sure I knew what I was doing and the direction I needed to travel in. All the bikes are numbered so all I had to remember was the row I was in and roughly how far down I was. I checked everything was OK on the bike ie tyres inflated etc and put a bike cover over it. The security here is very good, you have a picture taken with your bike which is checked when you pick up the bike on Monday. Also security guards are on patrol throughout the night to make sure nothing goes missing. Finally there was nothing left to do apart from eat, keep hydrated and get some rest.

The alarm was set for 2:45 am as I had breakfast booked for 3am and a bus from the stadium down to Pennington booked for 4am. Now, to try and sleep!! The first of three alarms went off, and we were both up and about feeling remarkably chirpy considering what was coming up. The bus ride down was uneventful and we were dropped just a short walk from the start. By the time I reached T1 the sun was trying to put in an appearance. I checked the bike again and went to put my wetsuit on. There was a nervous chatter going on amongst us and plenty of good lucks being bandied about. I bumped into Paul and we shook hands and wished each other the best of luck. I didn’t think I would see him for the rest of the day so was pleased that we had had a brief chat with some calming words for me.

At 5:45am we were led down to the pontoons so that we could enter the water and go to the starting buoys. I managed to see Trudi who appeared to have a great vantage point stood on a bench. This was just what I needed, I would have been disappointed if I missed her and I was now finally ready for the off. Once in the water I tried to hang back and to the side. This event is a mass start so all 1600+ athletes are in the water all aiming for the same buoy in the distance.

Only 140.6 miles to the finish!! Yikes!!

The national anthem had been playing followed by a countdown and then a massive hooter went. There followed a massive splashing and thrashing of arms and legs as everyone took off. I was getting bumped around a bit and received a couple of whacks on the head for my troubles. This is basically what it was like for the whole of the first lap and it can get a bit annoying. I was trying to take it easy as well for this lap as there is an awful long way to go and adrenalin can make you go a lot quicker than you think you are. The first lap completed I set off on the second and made a decision to swim way out of the main traffic. This meant I was going a long way around but I was a lot more comfortable and was able to swim on my own at a nice rhythm. Just towards the end I had a little bit of cramp in my left leg but I managed to stretch it out whilst swimming so that was OK. I exited and was stunned with the time I had done, I started peeling of my suit whilst running towards T1.

Only 138.2 miles to go.

The change went well, I wear my shorts under the wetsuit to speed things up, so only have to dry my feet and upper body, dry socks and cleats on I loaded my top up with malt loaf and set off to find my bike. As I was running to exit transition chomping on some malt loaf I saw Trudi again and she obligingly took some photos of me with a mouth full of food, cheers, they look great! The first 15 miles I was aware that I was going a bit fast so I was consciously trying to slow down, my legs were also aching which was a bit worrying given I was about to spend a day in the saddle. I was also eating more malt loaf to get the energy in for later on. Just before the 15 mile marker we turn onto a loop that we cycle 3 times. I knew that each loop would take approximately 2 hours 4 minutes, approximately you understand! This is also the first time we climb up the slopes of Winter Hill, a tough climb, but fortunately I had been training for it so even though it was hard work, I was ready for it. Once over the top there is a lovely stretch which is very slightly downhill and therefore very fast. Unfortunately there is that old adage that says ‘what goes up must come down’ and vice versa. This meant that the second half of the lap was predominately going uphill although to be fair it was quite gentle.

The support on the loop was fantastic. Trudi along with Janet (Paul’s wife) and their daughters were at mile 62 and 93 and were in a fantastic position to see riders as they came over a road bridge and down around a sweeping right hand bend. It was great to see them and really gave me a boost. The other spots that were brilliant to ride through were Adlington and Belmont. The support here was fantastic and Tour De France-esq as the road was completely blocked by supporters who parted before the riders as they struggled up the hills. The noise was deafening with mini cow bells, rattles and horns blowing as well as the cheers from the crowds. Even though I was getting pretty tired it bought a smile to my face on the last two laps and really helped me to get up the hills. Fantastic stuff.

The bike section was tough but towards the end of the bike thoughts started to turn towards the run looming on the horizon. I had been eating malt loaf and power bars every half hour with the occasional gel sweets chucked in for good measure. I had also been drinking a bottle of water (approx. 700 ml) every 15 miles so was fairly sure that I wouldn’t have a major breakdown due to lack of energy. Judging food and fluid intake is very difficult during endurance events as so many variables come into play, the weather conditions, how much sleep you’ve had, how hard are you working, what have you eaten during the previous days and how rested the body is.

I rolled into T2 and my bottom was mighty relieved to ease itself of the saddle, my legs were relieved as well but they still had some work to do. The bike was collected from me as I entered T2 and I gingerly made my way towards the gymnasium where we were to get changed. I collected my bag and made my way to a quite seat, sat down and changed my socks and shoes, peeled of my padded cycling shorts ( I had my running ones on underneath), swallowed a couple of anti-inflams, just in case, and set off for what I thought would be one of the toughest marathons of my life.

Only 26.2 miles to go.

I had set a target of running at 10 minutes per mile as this had been my target all through training. Having said that, I had never stuck to it and had always been a bit quicker, normally nearer 9 minutes per mile. I was feeling remarkably good as I gently jogged the first few miles but then I started to get really bad pains in my stomach. This I thought was just a touch of wind but after a mile or so I decided that a toilet break might be a good idea. As the portaloo readied itself to go into orbit I realised that perhaps my stomach hadn’t become as accustomed to high energy food as I thought as its contents seemed to be making a desperate bid for freedom. The pit stop over with, I bounded down the road, bounded who am I kidding, shuffled down the road and onto a stretch along the river.

This was a lovely run away from the roads for a couple of miles before emerging on Chorley Old Road at about mile 8. The remainder of the 16 miles would be run on a 4 mile loop in an out and back style to the town centre. After each lap a band was thrust onto my arm, once upto 3 bands I could enter the finishing shute.

Only 16 miles to go.

The rain had started to fall by now which was actually refreshing and kept everyone cool. My pace was hovering around the 9 minute mark at this stage but I was feeling very comfortable. This is where my running experience would tell as I knew I was comfortable at this pace and felt I could go deep into the race with few problems. I entered the town centre for the end of the first lap, grabbing a gel and water from the feed station I saw Barry (Trudi’s sisters husband – I’ve always been confused, is he still my brother in law even though he is Trudi’s or is he a brother in law once removed or some such rubbish – sorry I digress) with his youngest Daniel. It was a pleasant surprise and he told me that Trudi was outside McDonalds on the corner with Nicola (Trudi’s sister) and Benjamin. Confused yet. I spent the next few minutes looking out for the golden arches and as I rounded the corner Trudi, Nicola, Janet and her daughters were all cheering me on. It was great to see them. I did the little loop around the town centre and ran past them again on the way out. My stomach wasn’t good again and I had to take an enforced break in another portaloo. These gels seemed to be going right through me which was worrying. I set off feeling much better and picked up my first band to prove I had completed a lap.

Only 12 miles to go.

I was still feeling strong and had been passing a number of runners which always is a good thing mentally. I was looking out for anybody I might recognise when I saw Colin waving at me coming down the other side of the road. He was about 10 minutes in front of me and looking good. Colin is a marathon runner and 3 times Ironman who had showed me around the course the previous week. We spent several hours on a Monday afternoon at Pennington, around the cycle route and also on the run route. It was very informative for me and helpful. Colin stayed ahead of me for the rest of the race and ended up finishing a very good 4th in his age group.

I had been carrying a couple of my own gels that I use in training and throughout marathons. They are a bit more gloopy than the ones being supplied, so I decided to take one as I approached the town centre for the second time. I was worried that if I had to have another emergency stop I would be in dire need of some energy from somewhere as I was sure that I must be running on empty now. Good news at last, there were no adverse effects although from now on I would munch on the savoury biscuits that were also at feed stations. I saw all the girls again, waving like lunatics from the roadside and pushed on to pick up my second coloured band.

Only 8 miles to go.

Two bands down and one to go, still running strong and still at 9 mile pace. It was at this time that I was working out roughly what time I might actually finish. I had 8 miles to run, and if I wanted to dip under the 14 hours I had set myself it meant that I had around 2 1/2 hours to finish. Wow. For the first time in the day I felt that I could finish this adventure. The running was beginning to get harder, surprise surprise, but I was buoyed up with the fact that relatively, I had just a short distance to go. I entered the town centre for the third time happy in the knowledge that the next time I was here would be to finish.

Only 4 miles to go.

Then the wheels started to creek and wobble. I don’t know whether it was the fact that I was so close to the finish that I mentally switched off or whether I had no energy and was knackered, probably both. I had my last band and was really struggling to get one foot in front of the other. I had to walk a bit, well a lot actually but at the turnaround with only 2 miles left there were several of us all on our last lap and feeling the effects of a hard day. We encouraged, cajoled and metaphorically clapped each other on the back and I managed to summon the strength and energy from somewhere to get a decent pace on again. Surprisingly, and from where it came from I have no idea, but I settled into a nice 9:15 minute mile pace and ticked of the steps to the finish. It was a beautiful, I actually ran down the road with my arms outspread for a while drinking in the fact that I was on the verge of becoming an Ironman.

Only 800 meters to go.

800 meters and I was going to savour every meter, the applause was fantastic as it had been all day. I was on the crest of a wave, Trudi saw me as I came around the penultimate corner and she sprinted towards the finish, I had to go the long way around. I had my 3 bands firmly on my wrist and entered the finishing shute, the red carpet was laid out even though it was a bit wet. My fist pumping the air I slowed down and relished in the moment, all the months of training and hard work had borne fruition; I had just become an Ironman, wow, what a feeling, what a feeling of elation and pure joy to have put my body through so much and to have survived. I was indeed one very happy bunny!

A tough, rewarding, hard, awesome, stomach cramping, brilliant experience. Would I do it again? Yeah, give us a couple of years though to get over this one.

Just before I finish I would just like to publicly say a huge ‘Thank You’ to Trudi who puts up with me doing this running lark. She has supported me throughout the years and never moans ( well not much anyway) when I disappear at weekends running multiple marathons leaving her to look after the pub. She is a star.

As most of you know I don’t really divulge running times but for once I am going to, here goes for the stats.

Ironman UK. Bolton

Swim 2.4 miles…1:14:33 position 593rd


Bike 112 miles…6:51:30 position 674th


Run 26.2 miles…4:10:26 final position 497th

Total time……12:33:27

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