Around 2 years ago a certain Coach Clark asked me “so, what’s the goal?”, “I’d love to complete and Ironman” I said, and in typical Coach Clark fashion, I can make you believe you can do anything, he said “right, lets do it” and it started.
UK Ironman in Bolton I decided on, I didn’t want to go abroad and really didn’t fancy a sea swim as swimming is my weakest discipline and what worries me the most. I didn’t want the though of being eaten by sea things on my mind as well. As it worked out there was 8 other Off That Couch Fitness guys also doing it which ended up being brilliant support.
The week leading up to the big day was probably one of the most nerve-racking weeks of my life. I’ve never felt so sick and worried, what have I done, I can’t do this. Steve kindly sat down with me for an hour or so to go through everything and gave me his normal words on encouragement telling me I can do it, which worked for a short time but then the nerves were back.
So, the Friday before race day I decided to go and get registered and collect all my transition bags, no turning back now, I’m in and go the band. I packed my transition bags 3 times that evening and then had a bowl of pasta and thought I’d best try and get some sleep.
Saturday, lets tip those transition bags out and re-pack them again, get some breakfast, pack an overnight bag and set off. Maybe I’ll just check those transition bags again. Right, time to set off, I can’t put this off any longer. As I set off within half a mile the police have pulled me over, what a start. Anyway, got rid of them and got to Bolton to meet Steve at T2 to check my running bag in. Kindly Steve offered to walk me through everything and check my bags to make sure I’d not missed anything (oh, and by the way, he’d not packed his and just through a few bits in on the side of the road). Everything’s good, racked up, way in and out sorted and off to T1 we go. Gets to T1 and the same process again, find the way in and out of transition, where my bike is and have my first look at the lake, those buoys are a long way away, they sorely can’t be right and its 2 laps. They were right.
Anyway, back to the hotel to chillout for a couple of hours before we all go out for a bite to eat. I’m stopping in the same hotel as Craig, Gemma, Dan, John, Camila, Walt and Steve so there is a bit of buzz as we all meet up to go for tea. Driving out for tea I’m starting to get nervous again and the dough is kicking in. Thankfully I was stopping with some of the best people in the world and everyone was so supportive and encouraging. 3:30am start we all agreed on so off to bed to try get some sleep if possible.
Sunday, race day, 2:45am the alarm goes off (not that I really needed it), get a shower, coffee and a pot of porridge with a banana. Put my wetsuit half on, pack the rest of my stuff up and walk out to the car. Meet everyone else outside and everyone (especially Steve and Dan) is excited and ready for it, I’m NOT. Driving over I’m starting to feel sick again but there is no turning back now, park up and walk out with everyone to find the bus. Bolton is just full of groups of people, carrying white street where bags with someone at the front with their phone following google maps to find the bus. All of us got sat on the back seat of the bus and we’re all chatting and look happy and relaxed, but you can feel everyone is on a knife edge, either wishing the start to come or go.
So, we get of the bus and walk to T1, I’m just gob smacked how many people are there, not just athletes, supporters as well, do they not know what time it is?!? We all get sorted out, hand are white bags in and get together for a group photo, I’m properly nervous now and could just throw up and could easily just go home.
We all make our way to the start line, I get stuck at the 1:20hr point and just can’t get any further back, I remember Steve telling me it’s better to keep to one side if possible and there’s less chance of getting kicked or swam on rather than the middle, I’m stuck in the middle at a swim pace I’m not comfortable with, the national anthem starts and I can help but think get me out of here. Someone then says to me if you’renot too happy just hang on when everyone starts moving to get to a better swim time and keep to the right, its not as bad on the right.
Then ACDC kicks in, I wait to get to the back and get myself on the right, we get to the water and I jump in. The nerves are doing overtime now, just do breaststroke and get to some clear water I say to myself, relax, you know you can do this,nothing is working though. I try to do some front crawl and I just get even more panic struck. What am I going to do, everyone is passing me, I’m going to be drop dead last, I might not even make the cut off?
About half up the first leg I just force myself into front crawl and all of a sudden something clicked, I started to feel good and comfortable. Next thing I knew I was catching people and I was at the first turn, I kept to right just to keep out the way, made the turn, sighted the next buoy and set off. Hang on a minute I’m not only doing front crawl and feeling relaxed I’m actually starting to enjoy this. Next turn came up like a flash, again kept right to keep out the way, sighted and set back towards the shaw. I’m not passing people all over and even getting a little annoyed at people in my way, I swim right up to the line to get out, look at my watch, wow, that’s actually not a bad time for me, (maybe all those Endless pool sessions with Steve actually worked) I’m now really loving this. As I run to the next lap all I can hear is Camila shouting me(who by the way is probably the loudest supporter in the world), I get to the start of the next lap and I’m that pumped and confident I dive in and get straight into it. Keep to the right again, hell no, I’m positioning myself on the left this time. People keep bouncing into me as I swim past them which any other day would have panicked me but not now, not today, I just held firm and kept going.
I got out the water feeling on top of the world, I not only survived I actually did and ok time for me, 1:27hr, I’ll take that all day. Right concentrate now and get that bike gear on a get going.
I get on the bike buzzing from the swim and then have to try and calm down and say to myself, right, it’s a long ride with some big hills so pace yourself. Its about 15 miles to start the first loop and it all starts quite nice with a bit of down hill and small rolling hills, then the first climb kicks in (I don’t know all the names so I’m not going to try), I’d said to myself before I started, small ring for all the climbs on the first lap, I forgot this and just powered up. As I got to the top, I remembered what I’d said and reminded myself there’s a long way to go yet.
The bike course was absolutely brutal and full of long step climbs followed by step, fast, technical descents, there was no point where you could have a second to relax, recover and gather your thoughts. Maybe that was a good thing? The first lap seems to fly past, I was feeling strong at the top of every climb and really enjoying the fast descent being able to carry that bit more speed knowing it was closed road and there was no car to worry about. As I started the second lap all I could think was, I’ve got this, lets push on, how wrong I was, and this is where the real Ironman challenge started. The climbs got harder and steeper and I was running out of gears on the bike, I remember saying to myself, “I must have more gears left, it wasn’t this hard last time around” this is really where I started to dig deep, just keep pushing those pedals round one revolution at a time and you will get to the top, all which is true but at the summit of each climb came the fast, technical descents. I wasn’t enjoying these any more as by now I’d seenpeople coming off on about every corner and ambulances blue lighting it everywhere. I went past a guy and just said “this is a course that just keeps giving hey?!?” sarcastically, he replied with “yeah, this is a proper Ironman course” and I thought yeah he’s right, that’s what we’re here for, the challenge. My bodies really starting to hurt now but I just kept my head down and kept going. The crowds were amazing and every time I got a little down, they were there to pick me up and give me a boost. 100 miles clicked over and I perked right up again, 12 miles to go and that’s it, I’ve done it.
I see T2 and the bike dismount line and I hear my name being shouted, a couple of my mates were there, all of a sudden I’m buzzing again. Right, best think about this marathon then hey.I rack my bike, walk into the transition tent, find my bag and tip it out and get changed. Once I’m ready and re-racked my bag I sit back down and think, how the hell am I meant to do a marathon now!!! I jump up walk out the tent, grab a cup of water and think just run to each water station. I set off running and what’s going on, I can actually run! I feel ok! Wasn’t expecting that! I see my family has turned up and are all cheering me which gives me a huge boost.
Right, just 4 laps, nothing more than that, run to each water station, that’s the plan.
Lap 1 it all went according to plan and I start to see other OTCF athletes on the course, all of us high fiving and cheering each other. Yes, I’ve got this, I feel great (within reason).
Lap 2, again the same plan and it’s working, come on I think, my watch died which worried me a little as I had no idea what pace I was doing but I can’t do anything about it so keep going.
Lap 3, oh no, the cramp kicks in and then the doubt, can I make the cut off? I don’t know if I can keep going. All I can think about is all the people that were here cheering me on and my family that’s also made the effort and I’m going to let them down and not finish and I could feel tears starting to well up in my eyes. I had to dig so deep then to say NO! I’m finishing this, I am going to be an ironman, lets do this. I settled back down and re-focused and just set little goals and kept moving forward. For some reason then the tears come back, this time though because I was amazed that my family and friends had made the effort to come and see me complete this. I swallowed them down, shook my head and got back into it. Then there back again as I’m thinking about all the OTCF family that’s come to support everyone and as I’m thinking about all the support every OTCF athlete has given me this weekend. What’s wrong with me? Why am I so emotional? Come on dickhead lets get to the end.
Lap4, I’ve worked out now that I think I could walk this lap and still get under the cut off, but I don’t want to walk it, so I decide just to walk up the hills if I need to. I needed to. I see all the other OTCF athletes and we all give each other a shout, Arron and me even stop for a couple of minutes to talk. That’s it, I’ve nearly done this, just make it back round into the town centre and its done. I walk through the last water station and turn the corner to go up through the town centre, the crowd is still buzzing, and I think right let’s run as much as I can. All of a sudden the 26-mile marker is there, 0.2 of a mile I say, that’s all it is come on. As I turn to come round past the finish line for the last time the atmosphere is electric, I have someone just in front of me, let him go to build a gap I think, I want that red carpet all to myself, I’ve been planning this finish from lap 2. I turn onto the red carpet and look over to the crowd and the OTCF family stand out, I make my way down the red carpet doing the aeroplane (as was discussed over dinner the night before) and I hear those words I’ve been waiting for, Rhydian, you are an Ironman!
I can’t explain how over whelming and life changing this whole experience has been. The training was tough, the course was physically tough and emotionally draining but I’ve made it out the other side. I’ve met some brilliant people over this whole challenge, people that I now call friends. Thank you so much to Steve Clark for all the support over the journey and the belief he’s always had when I hadn’t. It has truly been one of the best experiences of my life and now, even days after I’m still buzzing about what I have done, and I am so proud of myself and everyone else that has made it. It really does prove that yes, somethings are tough and hard, but nothing is impossible.