1lb loss; 40lb total; 18lb in 2014
Oh my word.
I thought I would leave the report for a day or two to sort itself out in my head. But everything is still buzzing around inside. So I apologise in advance if everything seems a bit incoherent.
My Ironman report card going into the event was so poor:
2009 Finished Ironman Switzerland
2010 DNS Challenge Roth
2011 DNF Ironman Regensburg
2012 DNS Outlaw Long Distance Tri
2013 Withdrawn from Ironman Lanzarote, DNF Outlaw Long Distance Tri
2014 DNF Ironman Austria
I had to finish this one. I had to. I don’t think I could physically bear another failed attempt.
And I was willing to do anything I had to, to get there.
The day before we headed down to Holme Pierrepoint to register and re acquaint ourselves with the venue.
We bumped into many pirate friends we had not seen in a while and lots of Run to Live friends we had seen only days before. The running club had submitted three relay teams and another solo entrant (the wonderful Sara who would go on to come fourth in her age group in an amazing time of 12:55:09).
The big swim event was held on the Saturday with 5k, 3k and 1.5k options. Morgan (Dougal and Donna’s daughter) competed in the 1.5k swim and did really rather well. We all cheered her in, and once she had regained her breathe, were keen to hear her views on how it all went. ‘It’s really green’ she said. ‘Hmmm’ we said. Not surprising, I thought. British lakes always seem to have a green tinge to them, the Worthersee this was not!
At about 2 minutes past six the next morning I fully understood what Morgan had meant. Green did not really do the full grossness of the lake justice.
It was thick with weed.
It covered just about every part of me. Draped over my head, snagged in my feet, pulling great lumps out with every stroke. It rendered the whole swim in a dense blackness, with no vision in places. And then, just when it started to clear, it would come back, a whole mattress of weed.
And the smell. Oh my goodness. In the attempt to clear as much as they could, huge swathes of it had been cut and left to rot. It was vile.
That said, I had a really good swim. I started in the back of bay 1 (of three bays). Supposedly for the faster swimmers, but I figured if I started at the back and just got swept along for as long as possible by the drag of the water then that wouldn’t be a bad thing. And for the most part it worked. I found myself surrounded by people for a lot longer and conned the canoeists into leaving me along. No bored teenager playing on his i-phone while bobbing along, for me this year. On reflection, this may have been the biggest success of the day!
Approaching the exit and prepared for the annual face plant, I started to lift my legs out of the water then got distracted by the RAF blokes stood in the water shouting something at me. By the time I’d worked out he was shouting ‘mind the step’, said step had taken my knees out and I was once again fully submerged, face down staring at the nice matting they had popped down to facilitate an easy exit. But, before I’d had time to think ‘Golly, not again!’ the nice RAF man had hooked me under the arm and whipped me up onto my feet. ‘Golly…’ I thought again, but before I got any further, he’d whipped my zip down and had me half out of my wetsuit and sent me on my way.
The whole couldn’t have taken more than three seconds. He was a keeper!
Swim time 1:55.23
T1 – 9.03
I waddled off to transition, for a quick sit down and get changed then waddled out again to go and find Piri. She was parked at the very end of the rack just next to the bike exit. I could see Barrie and Mel on the bank just above heckling me along. It was a very long walk in the bike shoes! I grabbed Piri, took her to the mount line. Focused on getting my leg over the crossbar without stacking it and pedalled off around the lake.
Now, I many have mentioned that I have been struggling with a few back problems. Over the last couple of weeks they had eased sufficiently to bring me confidence of a finish. Unfortunately, this morning they chose to come back with a vengeance. As I popped myself onto the bike and started to pedal away the muscles around my hip and right leg started to spasm.
There was no way I was not going to finish. But I had to be sensible and come up with a strategy to get there within 17 hours. It was clear that I had no power in my legs at all. I had to trust in all my training and not to panic. So, rather than my usual slow cadence and high gear, I swapped to a lower gear ratio and increased my cadence. I knew that I would need as much time as I could buy on the bike for later on. And I felt strangely optimistic that I could achieve 7 hours on the bike. Despite the pain, my head was in a very good place.
The bike course is essentially flat and undulating. It has an out and back start/finish and then three loops, the south loop executed twice, the northern loop once with a long straight road connecting the loops. The only hill of note (Oxton Bank) was in the northern loop.
The first feed station was 16 miles in. It was managed by the pirates and would be stocked with lots of familiar faces. A great first target. So, I settled into a rhythmic cadence at a target heart rate of around 145 and started to play shed tunes in my head.
I was very much on my own for the first part (the joys of being a crap swimmer) but slowly I started to catch and overtake the slower cyclists. Making a point to say hello and exchange a few words with each I started to look forward to these encounters and used them as a focus. My back was really sore but manageable for a long time. I think I must have put myself into a trance to block it all out as I barely remember anything about the bike leg. At times there was a massive headwind revealing the downside of a flat bike course. Very little in the way of free speed, just a constant grind of the pedals. I had to work for every mile.
I was conscious that I would need to grab every bit of time I could so when others were coasting down the hills that were, I would crank up the gears and push as hard as I could down them to maintain whatever speed I could get.
The grind became particular apparent on the way down to the second loop. All I could manage was 13 mph for miles and miles. I caught the sight of Alan cycling past in the opposite direction, I was so happy to see him looking comfortable. In the end he had the most amazing ride finishing in 5.37. I was so looking forward to the hill coming up just for a bit of variety. In the end it was very short and not that sharp and a bit of a disappointment. But did come with about five miles of long sweeping downhill, finally, a lovely section that I really enjoyed.
At about 11am, I really, really started to thirst for a cup of tea. The water stations were fabulous and well stocked, but there is only so much Nuun one can drink. After the tea thought popped up, I couldn’t rid of it. I started fantasizing about it, even to the point of compiling the best ten cups of tea I’ve had at sporting events, ever. I drove myself nuts.
At some point Barrie and Mel came out to find me. It was lovely to see them (and tempting to grab hold of the wind mirror al la Tour de France). But I didn’t because I was too worried about stacking it.
At this point the pain was quite bad and spreading. It was getting more difficult to block it out (although it was a pleasant distract from the tea fantasies). I had a decision to make. If I took my ibuprofen it might help the muscles relax, but I might storing up digestive problems for the marathon later. If I didn’t, it might be the end of the race. I took the tablets and it definitely seem to help settle it back into something more manageable.
I was conscious that I’d been out there for a while and with the increasing head winds I was slowing down. But, it also felt like I’d been out there for no time at all. I focused in staying in the moment, enjoying every part of being on my bike and the feeling of moving forward. I was still constantly passing people and that really helped too. Although we were all suffering, I was still making progress and that gave me so much confidence. Soon, I was back onto the south loop with the pirate feed station to look forward to and only 30 miles left to do.
The last 20 miles were hell. While a sub 7 was still on as I passed the pirate station (no tea there either and that was my best chance of a cup, sad face) it slowly started to evaporate with a head wind and a lot of uphill drags. But eventually I got back to the roundabout and the turn for home. My heart soared. I was close enough now to feel confident I was going to make it. Not in the time I wanted but in a time that was good enough (and also a PB).
I gave Piri a little pat before dismounting and handing her over to the marshal standing waiting for us. We’d had a ball but now it was time to go do a marathon.
Bike time 7.13.09
T2 – 13.56
A full change of clothes and shoes to help me feel nice and fresh. But, I quietly resolved to pack a flask of tea in my special needs bag next time.
My stomach was feeling very dodgy so I stopped and joined the loo queue before heading out. Once in there, nothing happened so I headed back out for a nice game of Russian Roulette with the feed stations.
I had a 17 hour cut and so roughly 7 hours and 30 minutes for the marathon. But, I’m the worlds slowest walker and I wasn’t confident I could walk it in that time. So, I would run for a minute, walk for a minute for as long as I could and then revert to run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds for as long as I could then I would walk the rest. Easy.
Heading out, I was filled with a sense of peace and calm. I really wanted to enjoy this part so much, so I plastered a smile on my face and relished once again just being in the moment.
And also, someone was bound to have a cup of tea somewhere on route. If Alan could blag an ice cream then surely, somewhere. I also had a back up plan. I had dropped a hint at dinner about someone leaving me a latte by the side of the road to pick up. Ok, it was coffee, not tea but it would do. There was hope yet!
The run route is one lap of the lake, pick up a band, then one out and back, then one lap of the lake to pick up a band then another out and back before heading round the lake for the final band then one more loop of the lake to the finish line. I did my loop, the run/walk going to plan. It didn’t hurt any more to run than it did to walk. I was so happy about that. I smiled at everyone I could and took ever ‘well done’ and cheer and ‘go pirate’ and ‘go Nicky’ and high five. I was astounded to see how well people responded to my smiles and thanks. It was fabulous and I realised that despite the pain, I was having a ball.
Soon, I was approaching the finish funnel for the first time and was looking forward to seeing the pirates who normally form the masses at the finish. I realised that Dougal and Andrew (Run to Live relay-ers) would be out on the run route with Alan who would be well round by now. So realistically no tea yet. But a big cheer from Barrie and Mel and the hordes of pirates gave me a real boost as I headed off to pick up my first band and onto the next stage.
A quick hug from one of the pirates at the end of transition and then brandishing my first band proudly at the marshal was directed onto the out and back leg. Each feed station had a sound system and I started to look forward to these very much. The sounds really help as a distraction (and to provide an ear worm to keep me going).
The feed stations themselves were phenomenal. Lots to chose from and in the absence of tea I selected flat coke and water. At one point I glanced down and saw a whole heap of bottles of cheapy, Asda own make cola. Now, 364 days of the year I wouldn’t touch this stuff with a barge pole. But there are really no words to describe how delicious this stuff was. It also seemed to settle my stomach, and certainly didn’t make it feel any worse.
Out on the course the support was the perfect mix. Pockets of cheering but quiet time to focus too. Fellow competitors were brilliant. Here and there there was banter and high fives and cheers and words of encouragement. The marshals were also fantastic. After all, they have an amazingly long day, often stood in the heat of the day so that we can enjoy ourselves. And without exception, each one had a smile and a cheer or positive word to say each time I passed.
So, I was in a bubble of positive thinking and now, in no doubt I would finish. But it was apparent that every time I walked the pain was getting just a little bit worse. Many people said to me ‘just keep putting one foot in front of the other’ and so I did. One foot, other foot, coke, water, boogie, shuffle, walk, march, just keep going.
Out and back and round again to pick up another band. No tea but deliciously, Alan smiling and happy and he and Penny finished in a great time. Another out and back and this time the route was much quieter. I stole a few slurps of beer and a bit more energy from each of the marshals. There were a few more high fives and many more hugs from fellow competitors coming the other way. A quiet chat with a family walking along the river (You’ve been doing what..?) and now no running, just walking. But I had plenty of time. I was going to make it.
I got back to Holme Pierrepoint with just one and three quarters of a lap to go. Behind me, daylight was leaching away into a beautiful sunset and now lit up under the glare of a huge spotlight on the other side of the lake was the finish line.
And on my goodness, things were hurting now. There was no blocking it out this time. So I embraced it, I relished in it. Bring it on, it would not stop me. That said, the relief when Dougal and Morgan walked towards me out of the gloom was palpable. The temporary distraction was enough to pull my head from going into complete meltdown. I don’t think they are aware of how much that kind gesture helped me. And I thanked them by going on about how much I wanted a bloody cup of tea. As we approached the finish line once more I could see another tall figure stood in the distance. He was in silhouette but unmistakable. I said to Dougal ‘Here’s your relief’ and I did it with the biggest smile on my face. I was so very glad to see him.
Dougal handed me over to Alan and said he would see me at the finish line and Alan took up the mantle of guiding me through the last 5k. I wanted to celebrate at the finish line, not cry and so at that moment I had to get rid of all of the pain I had been carrying with me. I sobbed for about two miles to let it all out before composing myself again.
I was going to be an Outlaw. As we approached the last 400 yards Alan walked off to the finish line. It was testament to how slow I was moving that he was able to out walk me easily, even after his own endeavours. I had a horrid moment where I thought I was going to have to go down the finish chute to Agadoo, but fortunately I was slow enough for that to finish (although lord knows what was playing).
As I entered the finish funnel, the remaining supporters had gathered around and formed a funnel just wide enough for one person to get through. I saw Andrew and Amanda, I saw Dougal and Donna and Morgan, I saw masses and masses of pirates lining the chute and I was overwhelmed with positive energy and best wishes.
Well it was just fabulous. And underneath the finish line, stood Alan, just as he had promised.
I had done it, I was an Outlaw.
I am raising money for Princess Alice Hospice. Thank you so much to everyone who has made a donation. If you would like to, you can view my just giving page here.