So, my plan for this years Ironman races was to go down the ‘Wiggins’ route and lose weight as three out of my four M-dot races this year are proper hilly! It turns out that’s not really working for me as I’ve also lost some strength. Sunday turned into a difficult day for another reason too of course - it was very hot - and that was something we’re just not used to!
Race day and up at 3:15, force down a bit of breakfast, then it’s a cab to Pennington Flash to check on my bike, wander around and chat nervously to a few familiar faces before donning the wetsuit and heading down to the lake with 1,800 other penguins.
I had my worst swim ever - 1:29 (12 minutes slower than last time I was here) and I put that all down to a loss of upper body strength as I tired badly on lap two.
Out of the water and into T1, out on the bike and I start to feel better - seems my cycling around the South Downs is paying off. There are plenty of hills on the IM UK bike course - over 5,000 feet of climbing overall - and up to 75 miles I was averaging 17 mph - not great but not crap either for me. Then I started to tire and the last 37 miles was tough - the heat didn’t help and the wind was picking up but I have to admit that it was largely due to a lack of big distance training rides (deja vu anyone?!). When I got to T2 my average speed was down to 16 mph - so I was only five minutes faster than in 2010.
Out of T2 and as soon as I started running I knew I was in for a tough afternoon. Eight miles in and, yep, here we go - vomiting by the side of the road. The same thing as happened in Lanzarote last year, only this was 10 miles earlier! I knew what this meant (apart from feeling generally crap) - no more energy allowed. All I can now do is sip water the rest of the way round as I can’t even keep Pepsi down let alone energy drinks and gels - not great in 28 degree heat when you’ve already been racing over 10 hours.
At mile 12 I felt really bad - very dizzy and no strength - and I had to duck into a portaloo where I sat for 20 minutes being sick (I couldn’t take the risk of being seen in that state by a race official or paramedic - and who wants to sit in a portaloo for 20 minutes?!). I finally dragged myself out and tried to look like I was OK as I shuffled past a drinks station and a marshall. When I took a cup of water I realised I was shaking uncontrollably and had to drop it so that I wouldn’t be seen to be in trouble and potentially get pulled out of the race (I had already seen a few people carted off by medics).
For the first time ever in an Ironman I considered stopping - I had 14 miles to run but could hardly stand. I remember telling myself I’ve been here before and to just carry on - so I did and it took me 7:13 to complete the run (well, I say ‘run’ - much of it was walking!) A thought occurred to me after the race: If I was at the start of a half Marathon and felt like that, I’d cart myself off to hospital!
I crossed the line in 15:53 - two hours and 17 minutes longer than my last IM UK and my second slowest Ironman time ever. And finishing was strange. Yes, I was relieved to get there. Yes, the final 100 metres were pain free. But I recall looking at my medal and not feeling the same sense of achievement as in previous finishes. Maybe I just wanted to collect my stuff & get back to the hotel before I collapsed!
A big part of me getting round was the fantastic support on two levels - lots of people cheering and, more importantly, a few people that seemed to really understand what was going on with the late bunch. These were the people that I saw out there all day and they were quietly encouraging us when it was clear we really needed it. So a huge thanks to those guys - I would have been out there even longer otherwise!
Sadly, there were a fair few people on the run that were clearly not going to make it by the cut-off (some didn't make the bike cut-off either) - so I count myself lucky in that regard.
So then, (more) lessons learned:
- Strength training is key - weights, circuits, core exercises are a must (for me at least) - don’t think that swimming, cycling and running are enough - unless you can do them in big enough volumes (and have age on your side!)
- Do longer distances in training - especially on the bike and run. It is an endurance event after all.
I’ve never been a big volume trainer - I don’t have the time or high enough level of commitment. Ironman is a selfish sport and - unless you’re name is Bayliss (or Charles & Laura!) - it’s just not fair on your partner.
When I think about it, I’ve never done an Ironman where I haven’t been physically ill either during or after a race (sometimes both!). So why do I continue to do them (I have Galway 70.3 and IM Wales already booked in September and planning Lanzarote and A N Other next year). That’s a question I ask myself at some point on the way around and I actually can’t say I know the answer! I guess it’s because I like a challenge and feel I need to keep on pushing myself to show that I can do it. I was never any good at sport at school (apart from being an OK swimmer), was a weekend smoker for 25 years and will be 50 next year (wow, now that looks old seeing it written down!) Or maybe it’s classic mid-life crisis - although I see that crisis continuing for many years to come - aren't all men 15 years old?!
Happy days :)
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