From Half-Hearted to Half-Ironman
One thing I wasn’t prepared for on the day of my Ironman 70.3 was the emotion, it had been a long journey with lots of obstacles along the way but here I was running (just) down the red finishers chute with my family and friends cheering me on with a complete sense of satisfaction, relief and pride.
The purpose of this blog post is really for future me to look back on as a reminder of the day but there may be the odd person out there who may find it interesting also, so please read on if that’s you. Last August I signed up with a friend to do a Half Ironman or Ironman 70.3, which consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride followed by a 13.1 mile run.
Having researched some of the Ironman 70.3 races out there my mate (yes, you Steve) decided the best one to do would be Exmoor, which is quite notorious in the triathlon world as being the hardest 70.3 in Europe, mainly down to the fact it has some hills, 52 hills in fact, that’s just on the bike, then you have a hilly half marathon with a mixture of grass, mud and gravel to finish you off. The only thing flat is the swim, even the transition from swim to bike is on a hill. You get the picture there’s a shed load of hills.
As I said last August was the month we booked the race, I then spent a few months freaking out about the course and the fact I still wasn’t a very good swimmer. I believe you should focus on your weakest discipline and swimming was it but I knew if I kept at it it would eventually click so 2-3 times a week I would get up early and head to the pool practising my drills, whilst also doing a couple of bike rides outside or on the WattBike and a couple of runs when I could fit them in a week.
During this time I picked up many injuries which I now realise is part and parcel of this game, my shoulder was causing lots of pain, I had AC Joint degeneration and inflammation mainly due to my poor swim technique, ongoing calf issues, hamstring tweaks, rib pain from a torn intercostal from years ago, ankle pain and a suspected stress fracture but the most worrying was a trip to Surrey Sports Park to have an exercise stress test as someone who suffers from ectopic beats I thought it best to have a check-up, a couple of months out from the race. Here they hook you up to a 12 point ECG and put you on a bike and progressively increase the resistance until you can’t physically go any longer whilst also checking your lung function. Everything came back good apart from one ‘slightly concerning’ marker from my heart. I was told to see my GP so I googled (never google health ailments!) what I was told I had by the technician and got an appointment with my GP the next day. He didn’t do much to allay my concerns basically telling me to not worry but in the meantime until I saw a specialist to not let my heart go above 110bpm!!
Obviously on hearing this news my Heart Rate skyrocketed to 111bpm! I managed to get an appointment with a consultant 3 days later but those 3 days I don’t mind admitting were horrendous I literally thought my heart was going to stop at any minute and kept thinking my Triathlon days and my job as a Personal Trainer were over, and even darker thoughts about never seeing family. I didn’t take it well.
I then had another stress test with the consultant who afterwards sat me down and said the awesome words ‘Your ECG is fine’ , I do have something different to most people but it was nothing to worry about and recent research showed a small percentage of soldiers in the American Army have it also, HOOORAH!
That was like a second wind for me so that night I went up the lake and smashed my 2 lap (1500m) PB by 3 minutes.
Training for the last 2 months consisted of finding the biggest hills and riding up and down them as much as possible, I started to relish hills and enjoyed finding the big ones and trying to get up them as efficiently as possible. Swimming was improving but I still wasn’t running as much due to niggling injuries, 2 weeks out I still wasn’t sure if I could run and was told by my physio to not run for a week so not the best run preparation but I knew it wasn’t going to stop me even if it was a stress fracture I was going to do Exmoor and worry about the pain after.
The day had finally come, we had camped on the site of the Ironman 70.3 with my wife and kids in a rented campervan so I was up at 4.30am, 2 pots of porridge, pitta bread with peanut butter, water and a Beet It shot later I was nearly ready.
Sipping on a bottle of electrolyte and packing my last bag after racking and packing my bike and run bag the day before and leaving in transition I was finally set.
Last minute words of encouragement from the family and my friends who had all come down to support. Ironically this whole thing was Steves idea and due to and injury he had to pull out months before but still got a nice bag eh Steve (only £250!)
The swim is self-seeding and a rolling start which is meant to be much safer and less chance of getting knocked out in the usual melee of a mass start. You have 1hr 10mins to complete the swim otherwise you’re race is over and you get hit with a DNF (Did Not Finish). I seeded myself just past the 45 minute marker hoping anything under 45 minutes would be good. So there we all were hundreds of men and women lined up waiting for the national anthem to end, which was blasting around the stunning Wimbleball Lake, before the race began. I don’t know why but I was the calmest I have ever been before a race, and decided to take the inside lane of the 1 lap route, the swim went by without a hitch I felt so relaxed, had quite a bit of open water and only a few little digs here and there. I was astounded to see my time on my watch when I came out of the water to read 40:53 I’d never swam that fast before. I saw my friends and family for the obligatory high 5 and hugs as I made my way up the hill to bike transition, feeling full of energy and pleased to see them.
Then it all went a bit tits up.
I arrived in transition and grabbed my bag and ran to the nude changing area as I wanted to change into full cycle kit, opened the bag and Id grabbed the wrong one, so quickly ran back put that one back and grabbed mine, got changed, grabbed my bike and headed out of transition. Feeling good and heading up the first hill for about 250 metres before realising I hadn’t put my number belt on, now this is Ironman where you will get disqualified for dropping litter. I immediately thought my race was over, I wasn’t sure if no number belt meant a DQ but I had no choice but to go back and get it. I jumped off my bike and ran (anyone who has ran in cycle shoes knows this is ridiculous) all the way down the hill swearing my head off thinking after all these months of hard work Ive blown it with a stupid number belt issue. I found a referee and said ‘Im really sorry Ive left my number belt in transition can I go and get it’. He thankfully said it was OK, I asked if it would affect my race in any way and he said No, the relief! So in total I probably lost about 5-7 minutes with that balls up but as my swim went so well I figured I was about level.
The bike is 2 laps and the cut off is 5hrs 30mins from my swim start (so includes swim and bike time).
Thankfully the bike was pretty uneventful. I saw guys off their bikes and pushing them on the first hill ‘only another 51 to go guys’! All my hill training paid off and I made up a lot of places on the bike passing people with relative ease on the hills. I wanted to finish below 4 hours and average 15mph over the 56 miles which would mean I would beat the cut off but still hopefully have enough in the legs to finish the run.
Then my bike started making all sorts of creaking and cracking noises on lap 2 to the extent where I was nervous to peddle so tried to not peddle as much as possible, which is frankly near enough impossible on a course like this but at the end of the 2 laps I beat cut off and averaged exactly 15mph, love it when a plan comes together!
Finished the bike in 3:54 relieved my bike held up.
Transition went smoothly and I headed out for the run, legs felt remarkably fresh (lots of brick sessions paid off) , really wanted to see my family though and there they were at the start of the run, cuddles and kisses with the kids and reassuring words from my awesome wife and friends put me in a good frame of mind.
At this stage I didn’t have a clue how long I had been going, I knew I had to beat 8hrs 30 mins to beat total cut off and finish the race. The run consists of 3 laps of hilly, undulating, uneven terrain. Lap 1 felt good and as I came to the crossroads to either head down the finish chute or start lap 2 again my amazing support crew were there with placards and hugs and high 5’s, this time though as I turned the corner to start lap 2 I started welling up at the thought I might actually do this. Lap 2 was horrible, my ankle, in fact my legs were hurting bad but there was no way I was going to stop, again I got to the crossroads more encouragement and hugs from my wife and kids and more welling up from me as I went round the corner, must have been dust or something getting in my eye!
At mile 10 I felt like I was going to collapse, legs felt weak and my head started to get dizzy. I knew this might happen so didn’t panic, did another gel but still didn’t feel better, then a short battle with the head saying just stop, of course that battle lasted all of 3 seconds there was no way I was going to stop but I needed something in me before I collapsed, so I simply relaxed and listened to my body which wanted real food, I grabbed half a banana from the aid station and immediately felt better.
Finally I saw the crossroads and could see my support crew were not there so knew they were waiting down the finishers chute, a great feeling not having to do another lap I can tell you, and a beaming smile saw me head down the red Ironman Carpet, I milked this moment, slowing down, smiling, high 5 ing the crowd and again that special moment with my wife, kids and friends before crossing the line in 7:01, utterly ecstatic that after everything that had happened on this road to Half Ironman I had done it and done the hardest in Europe!
Tears were shed properly this time when my wife and kids came over and wouldn’t let go, they knew how much it meant to me, they had put up with a lot as well. I struggled to get the words out but I know they were along the lines of………now I want to do a full one!
Thanks to theses amazing people for so much love and encouragement not just on the day but during the whole journey: Steve & Lydia (and kids), Neil & Joelle (11 times mate!), Ray for the training rides and positivity and my amazing wife and kids who are now Ironkids after completing their event the day before for the inspiration and motivation and for just putting up with me!