An obsessive year of planning, training and preparation then just like that I am checking my gear for the tenth time for my first Ironman. I can’t wait to get under way now.
After a really terrible journey to Bolton for my recce in May I decided to leave at 8am because the traffic is always bad on a Friday. As predicted we, Barb my partner, Bekah my daughter and myself were crawling along the M6 for over two hours, thankfully I had the forethought to let Barb drive. With steam coming out of my ears we arrived in Bolton six and a half hours later but with plenty of time to register (and buy some goodies) then get to the race brief.
Saturday was all about racking bike and bags. Up early for a nice breakfast (no lie-in for the girls) then in the car heading to the Flash as I now know it, feeling nervous. Before leaving Andover I had bagged my gear separately so transferring into the bike and run bags was easy but it didn’t stop me checking it all again. Pulling up into a very busy overspill car park now a little excited and keen to get organised. I recognised a guy from Andover pool and the running track pulling up next to us. Later I found out his name, Thomas Palmer, small world, had a quick chat then off to transition.
Helmet on and fastened I breeze in to transition 1, I even feel like I know what I am doing, rack my bike then into the tent to rack the bike bag, time to breathe and spend some time working out what direction I run in and out of transition, counting rows so I can find my bike again without having to read the boards on the end of the racks. With a quick mooch around at the lake trying to take it all in; the lake looked a little choppy, hope it’s not like that tomorrow I thought. Transition 2 was much the same rack the run bag and make sure I know where I’m going.
‘An Ironman is not made in 140.6 miles; An Ironman is forged through countless early morning wake ups, gallons of sweat, hundreds of miles of focus, and many months of self-discipline. Like steel, an Ironman enters the fire, is softened, and beat down, and shaped, and moulded, and in the end is solid and strong. Tomorrow, I will be an Ironman!’ (Author unknown)
The alarm goes off at 3am, no messing about I’m up and dressed out the door for breakfast, outside its spitting with rain. Breakfast didn’t go down too well but I forced it down, porridge, toast and honey. Back to the room for the usual body functions and a shower, 4am and I’m ready to leave, I drag Barb out of bed to drop me at the bus stop because it’s raining. (I’m not an Ironman yet!) In transition everybody is going about their business with purpose so I fill my bottles and put my food on the bike. Now I don’t know what to do and I feel a little lost so I decide to put my wetsuit on as it is still raining. I find a place to change, get both legs into my wetsuit and realise I still have my cargo shorts on, felt good to laugh at myself. With all my wet clothes stowed away in my white bag I drop it off, hopefully I’ll see it again when I get over the finish line. I find someone to zip me up and we walk towards the rolling start then I realise I’ve forgotten to rinse the anti-fog spray out of my goggles, a little panic until I find someone with a bottle of water. I find my slot in the 1hour 20 minute section and wait, chatting while trying to look like I belong there. Then I’m spotted by Barb and Bekah, how they found me I’ll never know but it was really lovely to see them at that point.
We start to move forward and it dawns on me I’m actually doing this; a year and a half in the planning, into the water and I’m off, heavy breathing doing a cross between doggy paddle and breast stroke. I remember a lady saying to me “I can’t breathe either, try and relax”: I thought to myself at least you can actually talk because I couldn’t reply. How long it took me to get going I’ll never know, but once I was, I loved it. I got battered a few times trying to find my own space, settled in for a few hundred metres. Right I thought let’s try and pull some time back but all I could do was make a dash for a gap when I saw one. My lines around the buoys were set by the pack, got knocked a little at each one. Feeling good and growing with confidence I finally caught sight of the exit; pushed on, got to the ramp grabbed an arm to help me out, mumbled thanks, looked at my watch while I jogged round for the second lap, 40 minutes. I hadn’t thought about how I was getting back in the water so I graciously fell in, started to swim got some cramp in my calf, stretching that out while trying to swim is a task. My second lap felt strong, with a good pace. The sky’s opened up, it rained so hard it created a mist; I couldn’t see a thing so follow the bubbles in front (couldn’t see any toes the lake is too murky) when the rain reduced to normal rain I caught sight of the exit buoys; big push for home again, hit the ramp grab an arm and I’m on auto pilot, goggles up, zip down, wetsuit to my waist then lastly hat, earplugs and goggles off my head. All the hours in the pool had paid off, I felt great or maybe it was adrenalin.
Running down to the tent I spot Barb and Bekah taking photos and cheering me on, they must’ve been as wet as I was. In the tent I grab my bag; it’s chaos with nowhere to sit down, (not that I’d have sat down) and looked like a sauna. Finding a spot on the wet grass, drop my wet suit to the floor and kick it off. Open my bag put my helmet on, start to munch on a Snickers bar, try to dry my feet with a towel which was a waste of time, on with the number belt, socks and shoes then fill the bag with swim gear. Run out the tent discarding the bike bag on the way, get to my bike, load food into my top and off I trot through the mud and puddles, and now I notice it’s raining really hard. Out of transition over the mount line.
Over the speed bumps on to the main road, I’m soaked through already. I push on feeling strong, settling in I pass a few people on the road to Bolton. A wave of emotions hits me, breathing is difficult, and it’s a good job my face was wet from the rain, anyway moving on.
Passing my hotel, my pace is around 27km/h; very pleased with that. I’m nearly at the loop, the rain has stopped and I’m bloody loving every second (I’m really doing this). My nutrition plan is to eat something every 20 minutes, little bit of malt loaf, pizza and a gel every hour. With my watch beeping every 20 minutes I’d sit up and munch then head down again. I saw a crash in a feed station, didn’t want any of that so when I needed to I’d pick my line make myself big and loud as I could. I needed to average 25.8km/h to finish the bike section in 7 hours. The first loop was great, Colt Alley was fantastic with the supporters, Sheep House Lane and Hunters Hill were no problem also with awesome crowd support. I’m not sure at what distance or what went wrong maybe with my nutrition ( did I miss a feed going uphill at any point?) but at the top of Sheep House on the second loop I met some brutal head winds with nothing in my legs. All I could do was dig in and pedal head down taking extra gulps of gel. I’ll never know how long it lasted or where I actually pulled it together, my average pace had dropped to 25.4km/h, but after Hunters the second time around (which I had been dreading) I was flying; the last 30 km felt like they were my fastest. On a high and legs in great shape hit the dismount line with my watch saying 25.9km/h.
I trot along on dry tarmac because the sun has come out to play. Counting gaps in the racking I find my slot and rack my bike; in for toilet break. In the tent it’s not as chaotic so I find myself a chair, fresh socks then trainers on, load the run bag with bike gear, drop my bag, turn my number round as I leave the tent.
Out of transition, feeling strong, I’m right on target. Walk through the first feed station as planned, had a good drink of water and pushed on. Up a hill to the main road and it’s a steady slope down, at this point I’m really looking forward to seeing Barb and Bekah outside our hotel.
There they are, wow, don’t ever underestimate how good it is to see your loved ones. I stop for a kiss and cuddle, exchange a few words plus another drink at the feed station. Also I get another boost, a message of encouragement from Peter Whent via a marshal. Cheers Pete. Feeling really good now, pace about 6min/km I chat to a fellow competitor, Stuart. My new mate is a bloody star and I will be forever grateful because we ran together for the remainder of the race. He said we kept each other going but I’m sure I would have walked a lot more than we did if Stuart hadn’t willed us on to the next lamp post, next feed station or sign. Cheers Stu.
Approximately 10km into the run we enter the loop section and I know that’s a quarter of the run under my belt, the atmosphere made me smile with people lining the streets. Cheering, clapping and cow bells with shouts of “come on Ian, come on Stuart, keep going you can do it” and a big thank you to the little girl, holding a sign saying “tap for power”, I needed the power. Later I found out her name was Lilly.
At the turn point I pass the red carpet, so cruel, we head out of town to collect our first band. The second half of the ironman run was always the unknown, from 16km I start to feel rough with stomach pains and my legs are like lead, my head “lost in the darkness” (that I’d heard about). Pace has dropped off considerably, striding up the hills coming out of town was faster and easier than trying to run.
On the second lap I spot Barb and Bekah which gave me the lift I needed, I eat and drink as much as my stomach will allow. I see a sign that says “never trust a fart”, how appropriate I think. Collect my second band, from this point It’s all a bit vague until I collect my last band and I know I’m into last quarter, we hit the turn point and feed station for the last time and I’m heading towards the finish line. Our pace quickened the closer we got to the red carpet, nearly all downhill thankfully. Stuart has gone ahead for his finish. I turn the bend and there it is, I head up the red carpet, without a thought for my fellow competitors going round the turn point. Couldn’t stop just in case I fell over, it’s all a blur then I hear DAD!! I High five’s with Bekah and Barb and head for the line. I am an Ironman!!
Wobbly legs I receive my medal, kisses from the girls through the fence then I wander to the recovery tent, I must have looked bad because people asked if I was ok, ha! I am an Ironman. Melon, cake and pizza with a cup of tea; I start to shake a little. I collect my finisher T-shirt and my bag with my wet clothes. Say farewell to Stuart and head for the exit to Barb and Bekah. I say to the girls after “don’t ever let me do this again” but hey, you should never say never.
To sum up, I had an amazing experience with highs and lows, the crowds were awesome and the feeling of running up the red carpet I will never forget. It was the second best day of my life.
I am pleased to say that at the time of writing I have raised a total of £720 for the Jamie G Sporting Trust currently raising funds to help build a swimming pool in the grounds of the Anton School. Many thanks to all who have contributed to this fine cause.