2010 Real Life Triathlon: From 0 to 140.6

 

5:55am 8th August 2010, location, in a wetsuit at one end of the Regatta lake at the National Water sports centre, Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham.  In 5 minutes, I’m going to be swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then (for fun!!) running a marathon.  One after the other.  No rest but just a speedy change of clothes in between.

I’m having a good long talk with myself and my head is saying to my body “What the hell are you doing here? This is stupid. You should be still in bed sleeping.” And I had to admit, it was a pretty good observation…

The Background

At school, I wasn’t a sporty type. Normally in the last 2 or 3 to get picked for sports teams, I’d always resigned myself to academic rather than sporting excellence.  So how did I end up on the start line of the world’s hardest one day sporting challenge, the Ironman Distance triathlon?

Well my first inspiration was one weekend at about 10 years of age in the early 80′s and World of Sport was on ITV presented by Dickie Davies, a sports presenter who resembled a cuddly Noel Edmonds. Rather than the usual football or rugby, they presented some amazing footage of a new event in Hawaii called “The Ironman”.  I don’t remember much about swimming or biking, but the image that stuck with me for years was that of Julie Moss, in the last few hundred yards, no longer able to walk, crawling up to the finish with certain signs down her legs that she had lost all control of her bodily functions.

Then, as she was feet from the line, the 2nd place women athlete just ran past her and won.  To a 10 year old (or to anyone) that’s astounding.  First, what would make someone do that to themselves?  Second, what would it take for someone to train to complete that?  Third, could I ever do it?

For the next 20 years, that intriguing thought ticked around in my head, but I never took the plunge and took up triathlon.

Then in 2004, with my wedding imminent in the summer, I decided I needed to loose some weight, so I entered Stratford Sprint triathlon as my sister, dad and cousin were also taking part.  Having bought a bike, but done almost no training, I just avoided drowning in the swim (I hadn’t even swum 400m in practice), got round the bike, just falling off once due to simultaneous cramps in both legs, then a stagger round the run.  Not the best of performances, but I was finally a triathlete!!

My relationship with triathlon was then on and off – nothing in 2005, a load of events in 2006 up to Olympic distance, a couple of sprints in 2007, then a good year in 2008 again several events up to Olympic distance, but nothing at all, even any training in the first half of 2009.

Before on the couch - in article

My wife was expecting our second child in July 2009, so throughout the first 6 months of that year I became a sympathetically pregnant couch potato and the weight piled on.  Eventually after seeing my hideous photo in the maternity ward following my son’s birth, I had what alcoholics call a “Moment of Clarity”.  None of my clothes fitted any more (in a bad way) and when I stood on the scales for the first time in a year, the figures weren’t happy reading.  Oh, and I had the body fat percentage of Utterly Butterly.

I set myself the target of doing the 2009 end of season Bedford Sprint triathlon (i.e. dress in lycra in a local park!!) on the first weekend in October to give me an target.

In that 3 months I lost 50lbs/22kg in weight, and very happily completed the Bedford Sprint near the back of the field, where 3 months before, I was struggling to walk up the shops.

At the same time, news was being released of a new Ironman distance event that was being staged near Nottingham the following year that was both spectator and novice competitor friendly.  Also many friends on the TriTalk.co.uk forum were using this as their first Iron distance event and within a few days of the first press release, there was a real buzz going round the triathlon community about this new event.

This could be the best chance I would ever have to realise my Ironman dream!!

The final circumstance that sealed this as the race I wanted to do in 2010, rather than Ironman UK, was that there was a B&B across the road from the venue, and no-one yet had booked the family room.  The key consideration for me in doing an Iron Distance event was that while I was swimming, biking and running, my wife and 2 toddlers would be both entertained and would not be stuck somewhere.  This meant they could see me but also had a base virtually on site if one of the kids needed a nap.

Being a professional Project Manager, I needed to ensure my planning and preparation was perfect.

Step 1 was to have a goal.  Mine was to finish the Outlaw in the 17hr cut off. No “nice to have” or “if it went well” times, just do the race and finish.  All my planning and prep would be to know what I had to do to get to the finish by 11pm.

Step 2 was to get a plan together – mine was based on Don Finks “Be Ironfit” book, using the “get round” swim and run schedule and the “Intermediate” bike.  The key thing for me with a wife and 2 kids (aged 2 and 3 months at the time, 3 and 1 on race day) was to minimise the impact on the family.  This would mean most training would either be very early mornings (i.e. 4:30am starts), very late nights or lunchtimes at work.

Step 3 was to get buy in from the wife – once I’d written down my plan, I let her know what I wanted to do and how I was going to achieve it, and explained how I’d structured things to ensure she and the kids didn’t get neglected.  This was really important, as there were times in the peak phase where I was trying to squeeze in 6 hour bike sessions or 3 hour runs and leaving her to get the kids up and ready and entertained.  Without her buy in, that would have been much more difficult than it was (for both of us)

Step 4 was to actually enter the race. I know a lot of my fellow long distance triathletes that do steps 2 and 3 the other way around, but that’s definitely a way fraught with danger!!

Step 5 was then the easy (!) step of trying to stick to the plan for the next 6 months.

The Training

So my plan started on the 11th January 2010.  The 30 week plan split into three 10 week phases, Base, Build and Peak.  Build started with just a few hours training per week, then built gradually up to around 6.5 hours per week in mid-March.  For a first timer at this distance, this was really good, as it seemed really easy just doing 1 hr bikes and half hour runs, so you graduated to 3 hour bikes by the end without any shock to the system.

The 10 week build segment began on the 22nd March, which was the same day as my dad’s 60th birthday!! As my dad has always been a very keen cyclist, we celebrated this with a 4 hour bike ride while on holiday in Norfolk.  However for two reasons at this stage my training went downhill.

First my bike broke.  My seat clamp on my trusty old Transition snapped, and Specialized couldn’t find one anywhere in the world.  It was a good result though as they then replaced it with the new model S-Works Transition, but I ended up about 6 weeks without a race bike.  Then at the end of April someone broke into my shed and stole my training bike and race wheels (luckily the brand new Transition was in the house!!)

The second thing was that I started to get ill.  Colds that would last several weeks, I got chilblains and sinusitis, I lost 2 toenails during build and on the one long run I didn’t wear compression socks, I pulled my calf.

It was early May when things got back on track – then I went to the Official Outlaw Training Day and got re-enthused about everything!! The last 12 weeks (on the advice of the coaches from thetriathloncoach.com at the Training day) started with 4 weeks of Ironman specific training (2-3km swims, long bikes 4-5 hours) which culminated in the South Cerney Olympic, which was slow, but I finished not even out of breath.

Then the next 4 weeks were Peak – 3.8km swims, 5-6 hour bikes and 2-3 hour runs culminating with my first ever Half Ironman – the Cowman at Milton Keynes.  I really enjoyed this race, finished strong, and this was a huge confidence boost for the Full Distance in August.

Following the Peak period was the big week.  This was an 18 hour week which included two 3.8km swims, a couple of long runs and most importantly the full 112 mile bike on the Outlaw course itself, along with a group of my fellow TriTalkers.  This was the key session of the year for me, as well as being the longest, and this gave me the confidence on the day that I could do the distance (and also knew the course in minute detail!!).  It also helped that on our recce it was a day of 24mph winds (and 40mph gusts) whereas on race day the winds were quite light.

Ironman is a mental battle more than anything, and it is the long, hard sessions where you feel like giving up but doesn’t that make the difference on race day.  On 8th August, my 112 mile bike was reasonably comfortable because of that really hard day we did on July 16th.

Then from that point on I was into Taper.  I was really looking forward to the 3 weeks of taper, but in the end, I found it was a period of doubt and paranoia.  Doubt because after 6 months of training it feels really wrong to cut the volumes right down. And Paranoia because you thing that anything you do, whether that’s exercise or other things like going to the shops is going to injure you and waste 6 months of training.

Psychologically you feel yourself getting weaker, when in reality the rest is making your body stronger.  When you get to race week, all these feelings are magnified tenfold and you don’t want to do anything that will tire you out or injure you, and you start convincing yourself either your wetsuit is going to rip or your bike is going to break or get stolen.

Race Build up

Somehow on Friday 6th, we got to Holme Pierrepont in one piece with all kit and body parts intact.  I went across the road when we’d checked into the B&B and registered. Once I had my numbers, security wristband and race bags, everything seemed really real!!

One Step Beyond had put together a great event for both the spectators and their families with some really nice touches like security wrist bands for the kids in case they got lost.

My parents had arrived and were camping in the campsite next door.  If anyone does the Outlaw, I recommend the campsite which is just 3 mins walk from transition.  We mostly based ourselves here so that the kids had some space to run around and this would allow me to concentrate on getting ready.

We’d planned to eat in a local pub on Friday night, but ended up going to a local chippy which was much less stress.

After a comfortable night, Saturday arrived which was all about getting ready.  Transition shut at 5pm, so I had until then to repack everything into the race bags (one for Swim to Bike T1 and one for Bike to Run T2).  These bags would be hung on my peg in the transition tent ready for my transitions the next day.  Also to do before 5pm was to make sure my bike was ready and racked in transition (I would put the nutrition on my bike at 5am the next morning) and attend a packed race brief to find out any last minute changes.  Oh, and stay hydrated (something I forgot through most of the morning!!)

I made the number one rookie mistake and spent Saturday on my feet running from the B&B to race briefing, to the campsite to pack my bags, to transition, to the Team TriTalk meet, to repack my bags again, back to registration because I’d lost my wristband, to the campsite to get my bike, to transition, back to check and repack bags etc etc.   Eventually from leaving the B&B at 10:45am, I got my bags into transition at 4:55pm.  Luckily after lunch I’d made use of the £3 High5 free refill service in the Expo so I was at least hydrated.

I’d probably walked several miles during the day and my calfs felt like I’d done a hard run – not got with the long day to come on Sunday.  Luckily I had a spare pair of compression calf guards that I wasn’t using in the race, so I put them on and laid down in my parents tent to try and get some life back into my legs.

If I do it again, then I really won’t do anything on the Saturday except drop my already packed bags into transition, then spend the rest of the day in bad, however exciting the pre-race atmosphere is!!

Dinner on Saturday was at 6pm and was a light Pasta Bolognese cooked by my mum, then back to the B&B for the kids and us all going to bed at the same time!!  Alarm was set for 3:50am and a dose of Paul McKenna “I can make you sleep” ensured I got off despite the pre-race nerves.

Race Day

All too quickly I woke up, looked at my phone and it was 3:45am – the sign of a good day when you wake just before the alarm goes off!!  I got my clothes on that were all laid out ready, grabbed my nutrition, my wetsuit and my dry bag, whispered “See you later” to Katy (who had not slept at all!!) and got a “Good luck” in return and got out the room without waking the boys!  When I saw this room again, I would be an Outlaw!!

There were 3 other potential Outlaws staying in the B&B.  My good friend Steve “Dr Dre” Drayton from TriTalk (we had helped each other through the last 6 months of training so it was really good that he was at that time), Ian from TriTalk who I’d spoken to online, but this was the first time in real life(!), and another guy who we didn’t know but was part of this unusual breakfast.

At about 4:45am after a very light breakfast, we made the “walk of the damned” over the road to the start.  As we saw the traffic jam of cars trying to get in and parked, we realised how lucky we were to be just across the road.

After making sure everything was right in transition and fuelling my bike with Gels, Flapjacks and Water at transition, Steve and I met up with Simon “Legs of Jelly” Langmaid another friend from TriTalk and waited in the warm inside the National Watersports centre till it was time to get our wetsuits on.  It was good being in their company as we all cracked a few jokes which made me relax a bit.

Very quickly, it was time to go down to the water, drop my dry bag into transition and make the short, nervous walk with 750 others into the water.

I’d done this length of swim several times in training, so the distance didn’t scare me – I just wanted for the swim to be over and be out on the bike and be one discipline down in the day.

The Swim

As the hooter went, 750 people started their Ironman day.  We were very packed in at the start and it was impossible not to be knocked about a bit. I got crack on the back on the head about one minute in, but I’d been expecting something, so didn’t let it panic me.  Most of my races and swim training since the start of May had been in Open Water, so weed and people didn’t make me nervous.

The Outlaw swim is in a long regatta lake, so it was 1.2 miles in a straight line, 50 metres across the lake near the end, then 1.2 miles straight back down.

I was in a small pack of similarly paced swimmers to me, so I was trying to draft off them, while they also did the same from me.  This all worked well until about halfway up the lake, when we hit a large patch of weed.  At this point, everyone went in different directions so cue another smack on the side of the head and kicks going all over the place.  After this, things were a lot more spread out!!

My target for the swim was best case 1:35-1:40, expected about 1:45 and worst case 2 hours, which would give me 15 mins to get through transition before cut off.

In all my planning I’d assumed I’d be on my bike (through T1) at 2hrs, anything better was extra time for later.

When I got to the turn I took the first look at my watch which was reading 45 mins.  I had to tread water for a few seconds.  45 mins at the turn was 1h 30 pace!!  Part of me was elated by this, but the other (more sensible) part was thinking “Have I gone out too fast? Will I pay for this later?” I eased slightly on the pace and eventually got out the water in 1h 34:04 and was over the moon.

Transition - in article

The Outlaw had volunteers to assist you out of your wetsuit, so after getting my wetsuit to my waist, the guy asked me to lay on the floor and in about 3 seconds my Wetsuit was off – just one example of great service from the Outlaw volunteers!!

I was then into the Transition tent, found peg 273 and got my Swim-Bike bag.  Into the changing area to put my cycling gear on along with a load of Vaseline on feet and body, very soon, there was no reason to hang around the tent any more and it was out to the bike.

The Bike

I looked at my watch as I picked up my bike and it said 1:44 – I had 16 mins of extra time that would be all important later!!  Just out of transition and my parents were waiting there cheering me on.  I said “I can’t believe how fast that was” and they laughed thinking I was being sarcastic – it wasn’t till about 16 hours later that I let them know that at that time I was being serious!!

Onto the bike leg and the first 3 miles were around the lake and it was a time to settle down after the swim and prepare for the 7-8hrs ahead of me.

As I coming up the home stretch of the lake, I realised there was still a swimmer in the lake still with half of the lake to cover.  My watch said around 2 hours, so this swimmer wasn’t going to make it through transition and out in time for the 2h15 cut off – such a shame.

At that point, I pulled out through the car park and out onto the road.  Just 50 yards up the road was the B&B we were staying in and there was a chance Katy and the boys would be out cheering me on.  I wasn’t disappointed that they weren’t there, because I understood how hard it is getting a 3 yr old and a 1 yr old up out of bed and ready.  What I didn’t know till later was that Katy and the boys had not expected me as early as I was, and a few minutes later they all came out to see me (the boys still in their pyjamas!!)

Out onto the A52 and it was great to be on a closed section of road just concentrating on being aero and getting my heart rate down.  There was just one plan on the bike – keep the average speed over 14mph and the Heart Rate down to around 145bpm (all my 5-6hr bike rides had been on this plan).  Unlike in my training rides, I found that my Heart Rate took about 30-40 mins after finishing the swim to get down to around normal.

Nutrition wise, I had a Profile Aquacell aero bottle which has two compartments, a large one I would have my water in, and a smaller one which had 14 High5 Summer Fruit Gels in.  My Nutrition plan was to eat every 20 mins, on 20 past and 20 to the hour I would have a big mouthful of Gel, then on the hour some solid food – in my Bento Box, I had 8 flapjack mini bites and for variety, a bag of my wife’s homemade cheese straws (there were also some in my Special needs bag just in case!!)  So one flapjack bite for each hour and the cheese in case of sugar overload!!

I’d trained with this on all my 5 hour+ training rides so was confident it would get me through the ride, and it meant I was totally self sufficient and only needed water from the feed stations (approximately every other one – I was aiming for 750ml-1L of water per hour.

The Outlaw bike course is an out and back of around 11 miles to the Lowdham Roundabout then 3 laps of a 30 mile loop.  My family had planned to travel out to the Lowdham Roundabout to support me, but wouldn’t be there until I started my second lap – after 41 miles.

On the bike - in article

The bike then became a monotony of 20 min feeds, waiting for the next feed station and pacing myself to ensure I made it back to Holme Pierrepont after 112 miles before the 4:30pm cut off.

The loop splits up roughly into thirds.  The first third is from Lowdham through Southwell to Upton and is the most Rolling of the loop.  No stand out climbs, but some rises and drags that hurt the legs on laps two and three.  The second third is up the A 617, most of which is a big long drag up to the highest point on the course (which normally has the prevailing wind making it even harder) and then the last 3rd is a really fast drag strip back down to Lowdham.

I’d learned from my recce’s that making my required time on the bike depended on making up whatever average speed I’d lost on the hard first two thirds of the loop back up on the last 3rd.  The Lowdham roundabout was the checkpoint that would tell me whether I was on course or not.

On lap one, the first two thirds were as hard as I’d expected – in fact when we’d done the 112 miles in July, the first third had had a tailwind, so race day was considerably harder.  The second third which I’d expected to be the hardest, wasn’t too bad – maybe because I’d really suffered there before and was expecting the worst.

Also on this second two thirds, I started to be lapped by the really fast guys and girls who all shouted encouragement (one of the great things about Ironman).  One that sticks in my mind was Lucy Gossage, a member of the eventual winning team who went past me like she was on a motorbike with a shout of “Go TriTalk!!” – wearing the TriTalk kit gets a lot of support!!

Then I really tried to wind up the gear on the A614 going South to ensure I kept my average up where it needed to be.  As I got a few miles away from the Lowdham Roundabout, I started thinking about seeing my family there who should be outside the pub just past the roundabout.

I’d been worrying that they might not have found the way to the pub, as there were a lot of road closures in the area, but all of a sudden I saw a familiar cyclist coming the other way – rather than come up with the rest in the car, my dad had decided to ride the out and back and a single loop of the course, but the loop in reverse so he could see me.  We exchanged shouts across the road – I said I was feeling good and he said I was looking good.  Neither were 100% true, but both made us feel better!!!

In the fast last 3rd of Lap 1, I had made up enough time to soak up what I had lost on the first 2/3rds and then some – so as long as I could do that on the next two laps I would make a sub 8 bike and be 45 mins inside the cut off.

On the bike 2 - in article

As I got to the Lowdham Roundabout, I got a shout of encouragement from TriTalker Cleo who was marshalling, then I was onto lap 2!!

A few hundred yards up the road, my mum, wife and two boys were waiting to see me for the first time!! This stretch was one of the densest for crowd, so I had to look out for them.  Then I heard them shouting, but my 3 year old just looked a bit confused, even when Katy was pointing me out to him.

Really quick I was past them and out of the main part of the crowd and all of a sudden it felt a bit lonely.  It would be another 30 miles or 2 hours before I saw them again and there was still over 70 miles to go until I could get off the bike.

The second lap was much the same as the first – a hard 2/3rds followed by a fast 1/3rd to make up my average.

In the hard drag of the middle third, two things gave me a real lift.  First about halfway round, I saw my dad again.  Then up the hardest drag in the lap, the famous Paul L from TriTalk was on his own at the side of the road, dressed as a Mexican, cheering on everyone (especially the TriTalkers) because it was the hardest part of the course and an area with little support!!  This lifted me and in my emotional Ironman state made me laugh out loud.

The second lap for me was the busiest one as I was surrounded by a load of the middle of the packers (and loads of encouragement from friends and strangers going past). However as I got to Lowdham Roundabout again, it was really apparent that most riders were going straight on back to Holme Pierrepont whereas I still had to go left onto Lap 3 and another hard 30 miles.

As I got round the corner, my wife was waiting there for me in the thinning crowd.  I decided as I hadn’t stopped at all since T1, I would quickly stop for a 2 min breather to say hello.  My parents and the boys were inside the pub having lunch, but it was great to speak to my wife and actually have a conversation for the first time in 7 hours.

As soon as I’d stopped, I knew it was time to get going again.  In my training rides, I’d found out how quickly your average speed drops when you’re not moving.  The last thing my TriTalk mate Simon said to me minutes before we got in the water was “Whatever you do, keep moving” which is really good advice for any novice Ironmen.

I said to my wife that I would be back to HPP at about 3:45pm and for them to go back once they had finished their lunch.  Then, with 71 miles completed, it was time to start lap 3.

All of a sudden, the course was empty.  I didn’t see another rider till I turned onto the A417 about 10 miles later, and by this stage, most of the crowd had gone back to see the marathon runners at Holme Pierrepont.

This wasn’t so bad, as I’d clocked up hours of riding like this over the previous months.  The other positive was that every incline, bend or climb I was doing for the last time, and I made a point of thanking all the volunteers that were still out on the course.

I’d read that the worst part of the bike would be around 80 miles (actually for me it was at about 85 miles).  I reached the special needs station at this point and picked up the cheese straws my wife at made and this was a real savoury pick me up.  Just as I left the special needs station, I saw a cyclist who had stopped at the side of the road, laid on his back on the grass and was staring at the sky.  Something told me he wasn’t going to make the run.

As I arrived at Lowdham roundabout for the last time, I took great pleasure in going straight on rather than turning left – it also meant I had clocked up over 100 miles on the bike so far and it was now over 9 hours since we’d started the swim at 6am.

As I got on the road back to Holme Pierrepont, I was trying to work out how long I had to go and how much time I had to do it.  I knew I was well within the cut off, but my plan was for an 8 hour bike, and I’d worked out that I was very close to going sub 8.

Although it wouldn’t have made much difference if I went 7:59 or 8:01 on the bike, I felt the psychological win would be huge.  However, this may have been a mistake, as for the last 40 mins on the road from Lowdham to Radcliffe, I pushed it harder than I had for the rest of the ride to make that sub 8 time.

This meant less water and nutrition was taken on board as my focus was speed and time rather than what I needed to drink.

It was a great feeling as I reached the top of the hill before Radcliffe and knew that it was now all downhill to Holme Pierrepont.  As I came through Radcliffe and down the road past Holme Pierrepont hall, I was time trialling at over 20 mph.  A great feeling as I thought sub 8 was achievable and the bike was close to finishing.

On the bike 3- in article

The road back to transition seemed to go on forever as T2 was tantalisingly close!!  Eventually, I went past our B&B and got to the campsite where my parents were staying, opposite which was the turn into transition.  Waiting at this turn were my family, cheering me into transition!!

I got down to the dismount line, struggled to get off my bike, handed it to the catcher who would re-rack it for me, and entered the transition tent for the last time.  My bike time was 7:57, and I was 45 mins under the bike cut off.  It was around 3:45pm and 11pm seemed a long way off…at the moment!!

In T2 again I had a complete change of clothing.  I’d also kept the cheese straws from my bento box, which gave me a savoury boost while getting changed.

At this point, I decided not to change my compression socks as originally planned to save time.  Removing compression socks to put an identical clean pair on would take an extra 5 minutes – this proved to be a good choice in the end!!

Here in T2 I made a huge mistake, which was not to pack a drink in my Bike-Run bag. For some reason I had expected there to be water in T2 so hadn’t packed anything.  I was already dehydrated from the last 40 mins of the bike, and now the next feed station was right down at the bottom of the lake, another 20-30 mins away.

The Run

Out onto the run and I felt great!!  My body seemed to be very thankful to have stopped cycling which gave me a boost.  I stopped on the way out of T2 to say hello to Katy, the boys and my parents told them I felt really good and I was looking forward to the run.

The Outlaw marathon starts with one lap round the lake, followed by 3 laps of an out and back to County Hall alongside the River Trent, then another lap of the lake.  So four laps of the lake in total and three out and backs totalled a UK Athletics accredited marathon.

For the first 15 mins (down one side of the lake) I felt great.  My plan in training had been to run 9mins, walk 1 mins.  For the first lap of the race, I decided to revise that to 4 mins run, 1 min walk to ensure sufficient recovery from the bike.

Then the wheels really came off for me and it was as much as I could do to put one foot in front of the other.

Bodily functions that have done me well for 38 years (like digestion and what ever the body does to absorb water, probably something to do with the kidneys) suddenly stopped working.

I knew I had to do a 7 hour marathon to get in at 10:50pm which was 16.03 min miles. But when your body/mind isn’t letting you do anything other than walk for the first lap, it seems an impossible task.

As I got through the finish for the first time and out onto the 10km out and back, even through my Ironman pain, I was surprised at the carnage out on the course. Most people were walking, some were staggering, some were just stood at feed stations muttering to themselves.

Very soon, I was doing the same, as although I was moving at walking pace, I knew from my Garmin that I wasn’t going fast enough to make 11pm.  Rather than get despondent, I tried to get angry with myself.

Even 4 min run/1 min walk was way out of the equation at this point, so now I decided to just run for 100 paces then walk for 100 paces.  Just doing this may push my pace up high enough so I would make the 11pm cut off.

On the last part of the first lap, the 100 paces run, 100 paces walk got me into a rhythm where I was shut in a box of that 100 paces and the big picture that was the whole marathon wasn’t in my head at all.

Then on lap 2 I got the right combination of caffeine/sugar/recovery and mentally and digestion wise felt ok again (although my muscles were in a whole world of pain).   I was out of my dark place and now had to get my pace back up so I would finish before 11pm.

I’d got to the first feed station up the hill on lap 2 just as the shouts for the 13 hour finishers was coming from the crowd. This made my schedule simple – 4hrs to do 2 laps, so if I got to the same place a lap later as the 15 hour finishers were being announced, I was on for a finish.

Feed Station in article full

This invigorated me and I started doing 100 paces run, 50 paces recovery and building these intervals up slowly and my Garmin was slowly building back up the average pace.

As I went back past Lincoln Tri’s feed station, at the start of lap 3, the 15 hour finishers were just being announced so I knew it was game on – I just had to keep moving (the last thing Simon had said to me before we got in the water at 6am!!)

Then, almost disaster – I felt my knee suddenly give way.  Although I knew I could keep the pace up, if I got too injured then it would be all over.  Then I remembered something my friend Anna had said when I ran with her at the start of lap 2 – “if you’re running and something feels strange then walk until it feels better” – seems obvious, but so many DNF because they try and run through injuries – again, great advice for the novice Ironman.

I walked for a bit longer than normal, but once running again, felt no problems with the knee.

I knew I needed about 1:15 from County hall on the last lap to be comfortable about coming in at 10:50pm as planned and was bang on schedule for that.

As throughout the course the feed station guys there were fantastic at encouraging me even though the feed station was in darkness when I got there. They seemed to think that there were others behind me by about 20-30 mins, but they would be stopped at the start of the lap because they wouldn’t make it – but I never had that confirmed.

From the county hall turn I started on the long road back to the finish.  I felt truly on my own now, knowing that there were no runners behind me, and I wouldn’t be seeing anyone coming the other way.

It was very dark there even though One Step Beyond had provided floodlights along most of the course.

But as I ran past the Forest ground on the way home, two guys from the event crew ran up and said they were going to keep me company for the last few miles. There was a lot of banter here which kept my spirits up in that last dark hour.

It was good to be running with others at last, but the danger was, I might overdo it in the next few miles, not leaving enough to the final stretch.

By this stage every muscle and joint in my body was in a lot of pain, especially my hips, back, quads and surprisingly, my forearms.  I had a couple of caffeine Gels to last me to the finish and was taking water only now at the feed stations with flat coke if there was some left.

As we went on we gathered others from the feed stations which were closing down behind me.

On the run with volunteers in article

When I got back to the lake, my wife and mum were there to meet me – they’d been waiting at the back car park for quite a while and were really stressed that I wouldn’t make 11pm.

By this stage I was pretty certain I would make it.  I had about 45 minutes to make it round the lake.  I took my last caffeine gel and made my way to the side of the lake ready to make the final run!

OSB had said that they added drama to the occasion in that they would turn off the floodlights as I passed under them. As I wanted to keep a consistent pace all the way to the finished, we decided to run to one floodlight (about 150 metres) and walk the next one to ensure I was fresh enough to run up the finishing chute!!

I’d been checking pace constantly on the way back and by the time we got to the last feed station we had about 25 mins to do one mile (even then my wife and my mum who were waiting for us were still really stressed that I was just going to miss it – my wife mainly worried that if I didn’t achieve my goal, I’d have to do it again next year!!).

Down the chute - in article full

I could hear Kyle the Outlaw announcer on the mic warming up the crowd all the way up that last mile, and at last, after 7 hours of hearing and seeing other runners take the left hand chute while I took the right hand one, I ran up the finishers chute to become an Outlaw!!

The Finish

In true Ironman tradition, spectators and competitors had gathered on the finishing chute waiting for my arrival – in fact at one point, there were so many people there to fight my way through that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get through and would miss the cut off!!

Finish line - featured

I got to the finish line and as I’ve seen people like Chrissie and Macca do so many times, grabbed the finishing ribbon and held it aloft above my head for the waiting cameras!!

Target sub 17hr, actual time 16:55:24 – job done!! I’m an Ironman and always will be!!

Then I seemed to spend the next 10 mins high 5′ing and shaking hands and most of those at the finish seemed as excited as I was!!

Once that immediate buzz was over, but with my own adrenaline still pumping, I made my way through the crowd to the massage tent.

Now I had finished and stopped moving for the first time since T2 7 hours ago, the pain really kicked into my legs and I had to be helped to a seat.  The massage tables were full with those competitors who had come in before me, including my friend Jon from Wales who I had seen in T1 and various times during the run, so we had a bit of a mutual congratulation session!!

At this point, someone brought me my finishers t-shirt to go with the medal I’d got as I went over the line, but I did say “If you bring me a High5 finishers pack, I warn you I’ll probably be sick!!”.  In the end, my dad had mine.  And as much as I’d consumed in the months leading up to the race and during the race too, I’ve not looked at a High 5 product since without feeling a bit queasy.  That can wait till next season!!

After about 20 mins of sitting down talking to the other people in the tent, my turn for a massage came, but as I stood up, everything went a bit strange and felt very dizzy and sick.  Apparently I went white/green and everyone started to look a bit worried.

A paramedic was called and I ended up laid face up on the massage table with my feet raised, sipping water for the next half hour.  Apparently my blood pressure had gone very low and standing up had not been a good idea.

Tim with wife - in article full

My wife decided to go back over the road to the B&B so my dad (who had been babysitting the sleeping kids) could come back over, and he was over the moon.  He had been updated by text at regular intervals by my mum, and like them he was very stressed that I wouldn’t make it in time.

The OSB volunteers had got my bike and all my transition bags for me.  By the time I felt good to stand up it was a bit too late for a massage, so we decided to make a move – it was gone midnight by this stage and my parents would walk me back to the B&B.

Walking was a very careful and painful process (as it would be for the next couple of days), but I had reached my goal – I was an Ironman!!

Post-Race Thoughts

The main thing I learned from my Ironman experience is that there are 3 things that you need to complete this:

1) Physical Fitness – You need to have put the hours in, the long swims, rides and runs to get you through, although it is never possible to physically replicate the run and the sheer pain you are in even at the start of the marathon, let alone the end.  The first time I took that in was when I began the run at the Cowman – I suddenly started to realise for the first time what the Outlaw would do to me physically. As I said earlier, the two best bits of advice I had “Just keep moving” throughout the day and on the run “If something starts to really hurt, ease up until it frees up”.

2) Nutrition – Physical fitness is nothing if you don’t fuel it properly. And you need to test it fully in training, then stick to it exactly in the race.  Do even a small thing wrong (like going 40 mins without a drink before and after T2) and you can be in trouble.

3) Mental Toughness – This is the key.  With mental toughness, you can get through anything.  This comes from techniques (like the 100 paces trick that got me running again) or from good planning (like knowing my own schedule and knowing where I should be in order to achieve my goal) but most of all it is character built from hours of training – the 4:30am starts before 6 hour bikes, the 3 hour sessions where I could have given up after 1 hour but didn’t, or the 1 hour run in February when I went out in the snow when everyone else stayed in the warm.

And the sheer volume of that 6 months of training meant that quitting the race was wasting all that, so it was never really an option.

A guy at work just before I left to go off to the Outlaw asked “If 6 months ago someone had offered you a pill that you could take the day before the Outlaw and then be fit enough to finish, would you give up the training and take the pill?”  I thought for a bit and the answer was No.  The training is the key part of the journey, not for what it gives you physically, but what it builds mentally.

The bonus for me was that during that journey I made so many friends along the way.

By the time you get to about 12-13hrs, anything you’ve trained for is so far distant as to be meaningless and it’s just your force of will that keeps you going (along with a lot of sugar and caffeine!!)

The key technique is to break everything up into bits at this stage.  Don’t think about the marathon or even the next mile, but just the next mile or the next 100 paces.  If you have a total focus on the next manageable chunk, the time actually goes really quick.  I never thought I was out there for a long time, because I lived in the moment and never considered the big picture until I finished.

Did I enjoy it? I bloody loved it!! The physical and mental challenge delivered everything I wanted and then the finish was just the icing on the cake.

The key realisation after the race is that from someone who’s achievements whether they were at work or in music or in sport had all been team achievements, Ironman is purely about your success (or your failure).

That means that all the 6 months of work leading up all have to be done by you and the race is purely you and there’s no-one to rely on despite the support and encouragement (which is not enough on its own).  However the payback is that when you are successful and achieve your goal, the achievement is all yours, and that’s a big payback and a great feeling.

Jon Collins the founder of the first Ironman summed it up in his marketing material for that first race “Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2 miles…and brag for the rest of your life!!”

Would I do it again? Damn right I would!! But probably not cut it quite so close this time…

3 Comments

  1. doddi76 November 27, 2011

    Not got all the way through the post yet but so far a very good read!
    What was the B&B you stayed at? I too have a family with me for the event so a B&B would be ideal.

    • Tim November 27, 2011

      Hi there Mark!!

      We stayed at Holme Grange Cottage which is opposite the venue.

      http://www.holmegrangecottage.co.uk/

      I booked it the day the Outlaw was announced in 2009, a full year before the first Outlaw, so they knew nothing of this event which now takes over Holme Pierrepont once a year.

      It's worth giving them a ring to see if they still have rooms available.

      • doddi76 November 30, 2011

        Thanks for the info, unfortunately the house is taken for the Saturday so no rooms.

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