Picture the scene, circa 1979/80 Saturday afternoon watching World of Sport (which usually meant watching either football or Wrestling) anyway all the footy had been cancelled due to frozen pitches so in a frantic attempt to fill time Dickie Davis says we are now going over to Hawaii to watch Ironman Triathlon. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, a bunch of crazy men swimming 2.4 miles in the sea followed by 112 miles on a bike and then a marathon all as one big mad race wearing just a pair of budgie smugglers. I was hooked and the seed was set, one day I would do that.
Fast forward about 35 years and I’m stood on the beach in front of the beautiful clear water of lake Wother, ready to start my own Ironman. fortunately I didn’t need to wear the budgie smugglers as the water was a pleasant 21 degrees, a few years before it was over 24.5 and wet suits were not permitted, apparently it didn’t go down well with the competitors. It had taken me two years to get fit and come up with a good excuse to click enter on the Ironman website, a 50th birthday treat.
With 60 seconds to go I went across to the Baugh gang, gave them the thumbs up followed by a Bruce Forsyth impression, weird what nerves make you do.
There was 350 competitors in the 50-54 age group and the last group to set off at 7.20. Looked like plenty of space in the swim but I wasn’t taking any chances so wore my goggle straps under my hat and my garmin under my wet suit sleeve. On the gun I sprinted down the beach and dived into the lake like David Hasselhof in Bay Watch trying to be the first one to help Pamela Anderson with her floats. Hardly any rough and tumble made for a really enjoyable swim to the first buoy, it felt like I was going really well, I actually went past some other swimmers, and seemed to get to the first turn (1230m) in no time. It was a left turn and I could see the large yellow buoy 500m across also a church spire on the shore so no problem sighting on this leg. Soon arrived at the next mark then as I turned into the low sun I really struggled to pick anything out to set my route. I decided to follow the swimmers in front (a school boy error) and after a while we all swam up to a boat with the occupants frantically waving us across to the left, I stopped and turned realising I was way off course. Nothing for it but head down and get back on track, eventually after asking a paddle boarder if I was still enroute I got to the mouth of the canal. It felt like I’d been in the water for ages now starting to get tired. I remember Clarky telling me only 1k to got from here. The canal is shallow at the sides and my hands touched the bottom a couple of times, I repositioned myself into the centre. The narrowness and the surge of swimmers picked up my speed and I felt like Mark Spits (Michael Felps to all the younger readers) which was a blessing because I began to feel sick and was ready to get out. The end of the swim goes right into the Seepark Hotel. I was dragged out the water by more helpers than I’d ever seem at a swim exit. I was out for 1 hour 36 mins, my target was 1:30 but plenty of time to catch that up.
“Do you want help?” “Yes please” I blurted out as my dazed look and bumbling attempt at removing my wet suit off prompted the question from one of the many amazing volunteer transition staff. I decided to take Clarkys tip and use time to put bib shorts on over my tri shorts and socks.
Onto the bike and I felt really good, went full tilt and seemed to pass plenty. I took lots of food and drink on-board during the first lap, including my white bread sandwich in the first half hour. After 43 miles I came to the big climb, the Rupertiberg. It tops out at 16% incline and I saw my Irongaz banner at the bottom. I Saw the support crew at the top but didn’t stop, pied em off and decided to crack on. The leading pro came past me on his second lap! He actually did the whole bike in 4 hours :13mins. I did the first 56 mile lap in 2:45 (average 200 watts) I was pleased. I started the second lap in the same vein, the bike course is fast but it’s not flat, the speed comes with the relatively long none technical descents. I started to feel things at about 70 mile and decided to ease off the pace. The scenery of the course was stunning and really helped get through the ride. The feed stations were all well organised and frequent (about every 20 mile) so no need to overload the bike with your own food. I averaged 175 watts on the second lap into T2 at 5hrs 48 mins.
Quicker transition this time with more kind helpers to take my shoes off and slap on sun screen on my shoulders. At this point I unleashed my new purchase from the IM expo, a sun visor. I looked like a cross between John McEnroe and Sargent Bilco but It proved a very useful accessory when loading ice onto my head to keep me cool as the temperature kept on rising, up to 28 degrees. Now just a sprint to the finish I kept telling myself.
Legs felt ok for the early part of the run but about 1.5 miles in I realised I’d left my bib shorts on! Not cool. The run course was flat and went through the park and onto the coast path through to Krumpendorf where we tuned and headed back to the park and then on to Klagenfurt town centre (I left a little energy to jump up and ring the bell) through the crowds quaffing beer and sausages while dressed in leather shorts. The course then returned back towards the park and the Seepak hotel, then round again to make the distance. The support on the course was amazing with singing, dancing, water spraying all the way, it was carnival time for the locals. “hop hop hop” was the chant (don’t ask me what that means, I certainly wasn’t going to translate it literally!) My run plan was to walk through each feed station (every 2.5k) and take on water and coke and some food. The walk was to rest and also to make sure I consumed the drinks rather than spill them down my top. Mentally I liked the idea of counting down the feed stations.
I saw my support crew at 7.5 mile, they nearly missed me due to the purchase of the biggest ice-creams I’d ever seen. I took the opportunity to take off my bib shorts, revealing the full splender of…….my Off That Couch Fitness tri suit and give them an up-date on how I was feeling. I managed to keep the first 13 mile lap at about 10.5 mins per mile. I plodded on but saw my pace dropping and started to realise I’d put too much effort on the bike. I came back round to the support crew and and replaced my cold sponge wedged between my neck and tri suit, it was really hot now. My pace continued to drop and my mind convinced itself that I was way of my target 12.5hrs. The miles from 14 to 20 were the most painful and mentally challenging and I have to say I was in a dark place (I know another cliché). Thankfully I saw my amazing family at 19.5 miles, I was overwhelmed by emotion and couldn’t even speak to them. It was now almost impossible to eat or drink anything, I force down a coke and some water. I listened to their encouragement, come on dad just a cheeky 10k left. I set off again and Ben ran along for a while encouraging me all the way. As I got to 21 mile I suddenly felt my legs and head come back to life. I glanced down at my watch and saw I was at 10.5 per mile again. I ignored the remaining food stations and ploughed on towards the finish.
I was back in the park now and the crowds were still cheering. This time coming to the final feed station I could turn left towards the finish and just in the grandstand at the finish straight were Ali, Josie and Ben. I had the biggest grin on my face and they were going crazy, I went over, this was more important than my time now. We had a few moments together and then I ran up the red carpet to the finish and heard those words – Gary Baugh you are an IRONMAN. 12hours 36minutes 47seconds.
Just wanted to say a huge thank you to all the people who donated to Charlies Challenge campaign, everyone was so generous and we managed to raise £3000.
Thanks to Steve Clark for the coaching that got me to the start line in the best shape I’ve ever been and getting me to press the enter button.
Also a Massive thankyou to
My family and most of all, Ali, my wife who has been so supportive throughout this journey (over 12 months worth). Never complaining or moaning about the hours of training, and the next bit of new kit that I’ve just ordered. X. Anyway never again….actually if I hadn’t swum off course or gone so hard on the bike then maybe I could have……