After following some people on their Ironman journey through 2014, in a rash moment, an hour before the start line of an ultra marathon last August, I entered Ironman UK.
It will be a new challenge taking me right out of my running comfort zone and should be a laugh! Right? Besides it was so far off there was plenty of time to worry about it.
Christmas came and went and something new was happening to me. All sorts of lame excuses were being made up to get out of triathlon training. Not the running bit - that was in the bag - it was the other two disciplines that didn't float my boat. It was winter, might as well wait until it warmed up eh? Besides, there were a couple of big races that needed to be ticked off (Country to Capital, Pilgrims Ultra, Marathon des Sables/MdS) before cycling and swimming got a look in.
Swimming is my nemesis. This was my main concern. By January I started chipping away at this. I had only begun swimming with my face in the water the previous June. Conquering the open water panic was another huge milestone. Eventually swimming became part of my weekly routine. It was encouraging to really reap quick gains from just doing as I was told.
Cycling. How hard could that be? You are sitting down! I cycle every day in the week on a cycle commute, on a Brompton (I know) a whole 7 mile round trip a day. Been doing it for years. That's got to help right?
Oh how very wrong I was.
Cycling was my new nemesis. My first long bike ride was in the winter with my friend Bryan, 38 miles around the Surrey hills. Underdressed for the freezing weather and with hardly any food, it was exhausting. Upon returning home the sobering realisation that I had made a grave misjudgment sunk in. Cycling is hard.
You cant just turn up and wing 112 miles on a bike. Another longer bike ride with friends Nick and Charlotte saw them help me cycle the furthest I had ever cycled, 60 miles. It was exhausting, but they fed me regularly and it was here I began to learn. There was nothing for it but to train.
After the MdS though. 12 weeks between the end of that and Ironman UK.. That's enough time to train for an Ironman right?
After returning from the desert I began to cycle at least 4 times a week. The mileage was upped; two 100 mile rides ticked off. The first one was so woefully slow my time was perilously close to the Ironman cut off time. I had a go at (the brilliant) Outlaw Half Ironman. Despite the appalling weather, the swimming and run went well. My cycle time was very meh, but going over the finish line I felt quite fresh. The training was paying off.
Ironman day. Worried about getting punctures, my bike value had been doubled by new stronger tyres. I am almost certain that my bike was the cheapest one there by a very long shot. No one else had sellotaped their bike pump to their frame. Aerobars everywhere.
No mass swim start meant the open water swim panic demons stayed away. The water was quite warm! With wee probably. A steady two loops with an Australian exit (you have to get out of the water and back in again). I found myself running along with a girl who had a HUGE beaming smile on her face. Ahh, this Ironman lark wasn't so bad! Out and past the mad cheering crowds to T1. Faff faff faff... on the bike.
I knew that Bolton was not the flattest of courses and when the first round of hills came they were actually quite enjoyable. The crowds were just something else! Cheering and yelling and clapping you so you felt like you were on the Tour de France! Oh this isn't so bad! Cycling is OK really! The weather could do with being a bit cheerier, but hey, can't have everything. It was all so well supported it felt brilliant! For about 40 miles.
Then, slowly things just got harder and harder. The wind had picked up and seemed to not affect anyone else at all. So many people steamed past me I genuinely thought I was last by mile 80. In my head the optimistic bike time of 7 hrs was slipping further and further away with each gust of wind. The crowds were just wonderful though. My entire arsenal of positivity was lauched in my head to get round the last few miles. It took me hours, HOURS! 7hrs and 54 minutes to be precise.
I have never been so glad to get off a bike in my life.
T2 was a change into run gear and a quick shake and pizza, and high five cheering friends.
Then, the run was on. As soon as my legs were running I knew the medal was in the bag and after a disappointing bike time I really wanted a sub 4 hour marathon. (Months ago when I said this to someone, it produced a snort of derision.) I decided to hammer it as hard as possible, and if my legs failed, well, at least I had given it a go. Lots of familiar faces were cheering; it was heartwarming. The main run section is loops which take you nearly up to the finish line each time, the atmosphere was electric! BRING. IT. ON! At the half marathon stage my time was on for sub 4, passing people gave me more confidence. Overall I passed over 650 people in this bit, so all was not lost!
Pushing through the last hills (surprisingly undulating course) the crowd cheers carried me to the famous red carpet.
A heel kick jump over the finish line, I was so happy I would have let Ironman tattoo the famous M-Dot on my forehead right there and then.
When I started this Ironman journey I honestly wanted to say that it was a lot of hype, that you don't need to do an Ironman branded event, that the world of triathlon is so competitive and slightly elitist that you feel pressured in to spending money on kit to get ahead. That's what it can appear to be like to an outsider.
The truth is it lives up to the hype. The world of triathlon IS competitive and perhaps a nicer bike would have been a better idea. Ironman had the event so finely tuned and the organisation is so slick there was not a single thing I could fault it on. Considering the huge logistics with an event of this size, with nearly 2700 competitors, that is impressive.
From the pre race information pack to the endless Domino's pizza after the race (which, no reflection on the pizza, I threw up over my legs) everything was spot on. They make it feel like the huge event it is. No one laughed at my £100 bike; everyone was encouraging. All the other athletes were friendly. We were in this together.
I know there are much more glamorous settings for Ironman, but the best thing about this race for me was Bolton. Lovely Bolton, you might not be flat, but your cheering enthusiastic wonderful crowds are terrific and what made the event so very special. Bravo Bolton. And Hooray for Ironman.
Division rank 11th, 76th female, 819th overall.
EXTRA SPECIAL thanks to Shaun, who came on the journey with me, Nick, Amy and Laura & Laura for inspiring me. And Charlotte who was so patient, and had faith in me from the start - despite knowing how terrible my swim and bike was. I would not have made it without your training & advice. xx