It all started seeing Coach Clark dominate the full triathlon X in 2017 and wondering if I could even contemplate half the distance and attempting to finish the toughest half iron distance triathlon in the world. I also felt as though I wanted to push myself this year at this distance and do something that genuinely scared the living heck out of me. I would later find out it did.
After a few conversation with my uncle saying he was wanting to give it a go. I continued to talk with Steve in regards whether I had the talent and ability to give it a stab… he replied
“yes sure I believe you can so get it entered.”
So with the coaches wise words and blessing I went and entered the event with around 8 months to prepare.
So the training for this epic and scary adventure began. Plenty of rides out with the dream team (Gemma and Craig Scott) as they prepare for there ironman UK debut. A lot of solo rides out in the tough winds and hill rep after rep mansgate claxby and a lot of reps in the Wolds. Its strange once you get cracking up the climbs you begin to enjoy the pain the comes with it as it symbolises achievement and a small success and a step forward and times up and down come down.
Turbo sessions are tough but when you have an amazing group around you each Thursday evening the scotter church with the pastor Mr turbo Cannings with his whistle, Christmas songs, super relevant and relatable 1 hour sessions it seems that little easier to make progress.
The winter months dragged on and progress was on the up. April was here the best month of the year for me. Training camp 14 days of eat sleep and breath training. The coaches Steve, Dean and Dave did and incredible job. Very good sessions every day lots and miles,smiles and climbs. Big shout out to my fellow 2weeker champions Jon Veall and Pete Tindell for the company and the recover rides.
So as the days, weeks, months, training sessions and races past by the big day approached and the magnitude of the challenge of what I had set myself became more and more menacing.
Flash forward to 28th of September. Its massage day to get my legs pummelled by Emma Davis who is a super star, keeping my body supple during the brutal training blocks.
Saturday 29th September my birthday turning 27 and nerves at an all time high I have all my bags packed into the car the bike, transition bag, wetsuit, trial bag you name it it was all packed. The long drive to the lake district began 164miles. Best of 4 hour drive I pull up to my hotel the ambleside salutation. Only a mile from race start line an transition.
After registering and collecting our numbers and having our mandatory kit bags Checked we went back and to the hotel dinner ate and constantly checking the weather forecast. All looks well for the morning , little cold but what can I expect from the lakes. Al least it be dry right… more on that later.
Well this is it race morning did I sleep well not a lot. The first time ive not slept well for aa race in all the time ive been racing.
Ate half of my porridge pot and a couple coffees.
Gathered all my bags and my bike from my car and met my uncle in the cold and dark car past at half 6. few words were spoken its race day so what can we both expect.
Steady ride down to the start and time to begin the whole racking we’ve all been through so many times before.
Thats it no going back now the wetsuit is on double capped walking to the race brief to begin the race at 8am.
Race brief done swim course was changed from a 2 lap small lap to a larger 1 lap route and a water temp of just 13.8 degrees. Cant be that bad right??
In the water we all went… tentatively may I add with a few ooos and ahhhs along the way.
The horn blares though the air and that’s it go go go.
Set off near the front in the middle heading got the light on the boat. Sighting and breathing im seeing everyone on my left. OK set a rythem like I have in training feeling comfortably UN-comfortable. People on the left… people on the left …people on the left… people where the hell they go. I look up find a group in front and slightly to the inside line of me and about half a dozen. Quickly made an effort for 200m to get on terms the recover.
Made my way around and dropped to jump to the chase group of around four guys. This group was hard to catch I made the last turn to come back to shore and still hadent caught this group. At this point negative thoughts going through my head I was so cold I wanted out. As I looked back I couldn’t see the group I dropped so I knew I needed to push on. Maybe 500 meters from the end I caught the group and hung on started kicking to try stay warm and get ready to run out of the lake. Glanced at watch was 32mins. later find out the official time was 27 and placed 13th out the water I was very pleased with that.
Swim done felt pretty good but it was so so cold. Got to my bike I felt as though I had about 8 pints of cider I was so dizzy I sat down to get my socks on and shoes. Stood up jersey on and gillet thought about arm warmers but it was raining so no chance of being able to get them on so ran out of T1 jumped on and began the bike section with the rain coming down.
1 mile done then BOOM 20 % kirkstone pass (the struggle) legs still cold not been on the bike 5 minutes and im already climbing. Going to be a long day. Managed to climb at the same speed as another chap and we had a chat between very deep breaths up the top. One out of six climbs done.
Knowing nutrition was going to be key today forced a bar down with a swig of drink and got my head down. Few rollers and the next climb was in front of me wall end climb 25% but now warmed up I could push on that bit more and enjoyed the climb more than the struggle even if it was steeper.
Heading back to T2 with the first and easiest loop completed and knowing id be back on the main road plus people going to be watching as I pass transition to head out to the bigger climbing section I click through the gears and get the arms on the bars and time trial my way though, well warmed me up a little.
Right its now time to dig in wrynose pass next I see Grimsbys own Les Thompson behind me as we began the 20% climb. Crunch through the gears pedal stroke by pedal stroke we climb to the top Les had a tumble at the top checked on him, he said he was OK. I deceded the wet side of wrynose pass and recover through the valley before I climb up the west side of harknott.
Hardknott in front of me within 100 meters of the climb I was in my easiest gear and stood up pushing hard my rear wheel spun and I hit the deck. Bottle flew out rolling down Les caught it and brought it back to me. With a grazed knee and substantial pain in my right wrist I walked up the climb and descended to head out onto the out and back section before climbing again. As I was descending I notice my front wheel was rubbing on the pads. I tried to correct it but was no good. I later found that I had damaged the rim it had rippled and distorted as it over heated coming off hardknott 1st time.
They say it would be easy section to recover and get ready for the way home. But the section was just as demanding with tough rollers and now not being able to stand and put a lot of weight on my wrist without great deal of pain. After descending there was a traffic jam on a narrow section with kit cars and a Nissan gtr. All of us racers had to brake rather abruptly, get off get out bikes held above our heads and walk between the cars. That was a good twist cyclo-cross, didn’t sign up for this.
On way back seeing other riders shouting encouragement and my uncle just descended harknott as I was on the way back over with 2 climbs to go. The road was so steep starting from the famous red phone box and over the cattle grid. Digging deep I rode the first few corners before thinking I need to be smart and ride with my head rather then letting pride getting in the way. I unclipped and walked till the road levelled off to a mear 7% and rode until the road kicked up into the hardest part of the course the pitches of 33%. walking over the crest of the steepest paved road in the UK I jumped back on the bike descended the very wet and oil covered road. Very scary decent and a few squeekly bum moments I was down safe just one more climb.
Wrynose east ive ridden before I put the pain behind me and pushed on and climbed it all. Lovely climb if it was dry but the views were just amazing. Last decent and its a flat 6 miles home.
Homeward bound. Right thinking back to all the lincsquad time trials when you’re hurting after making the turn. I bring back the thoughts of what I have to do. Big ring get aero, drink whatever I had left to get me back. Push push push.
Thats it I made it back to T2. I see a fimular face its Siobhan o Brien from Doncaster and fellow tri camper. I get my gillet off my shoes are changed run pack on and run gloves on with pain rushing though my right wrist and I pulled it on. Quick chat hearing that is was so cold at the top it may get shorted. and an emotional hug from my friend and off I went
Im running… running me. How the hell do my legs feel so good to run after putting them though all that. Its flat for the first 2 and a half miles the turning right past drywall hall up and steep incline. The leader was on his way back as I was starting the climb.
After the steep path you enter a small wooded area and the huge nab scar in front you and a rocky staircase with not a single step the same or the same direction. Some points using my hands to help me get up through the rocks. it was so hot climbing to the first summit. It flattens a little with rocks and ruts all over. I stop and pull out a fleece top out from my bag as the higher and higher I get the colder and colder the air becomes.
The wind it getting stronger and stronger the higher I climb I look back and I see the huge rain clouds heading this way and the views over each side of the trial were just amazing. I was thinking on some of the trails one wrong step I could trip and fall hundreds of feet down the side of this mountain. So with that there was a sharp down hill I began to run more when the opportunity showed itself.
Cramp struck and threw me the the ground few runners ran to me to make sure I was OK. I had to have a minute have some food and water from my bag. Get up carried on. I was around 2 miles from the summit as the ran came. It began to get heavier as I got closer to the summit. As I got to the 2nd to last summit there was a little tent, so I thought that’s it but nope one more peak and a small incline to go. 1 mile.
The waterproof jacket came out as I climbed the last large incline. No longer to feel my fingers so walking up a mountain like a moody teenage round tesco on a Sunday.
Finally I see the little red flags that say that there is 400m to the summit. A small orange tent I came to with a chap hiding from the wind and rain shouts out for my number and if was OK. Confirming my number and my condition was OK I headed back down. I took a good look around and could see the trail winding on the ridge of the mountain, thinking ive just come up there. The views were just amazing, hard to absorb as I was concerned where I was putting my feet.
This is it way back spirits lifted as homeward bound I began to run down the rain stopped same placed it started so the waterproof came off and back into the bag it went.
More steep climbing and sharp descents. I remembered I still had my cycle jersey on so reached in and behold…. a snickers never eaten on so fast. The sun came out as I was 4 miles from home so I knew it was only 1 and half miles of trail left before I was back on the road.
Began to run and trying to keep up with another racer he was a very good runner we helped each other off the mountain I had a couple of trip and falls one on grass falling on my wrist and one with only 40 meters from the bottom of the mountain.
Checked in with the Marshall at the base of the trail and made it into the road. Adopted the run walk stratagy and I was less then 2 miles from the finish. I was running low on energy moral was getting low legs were heavy and sore from cramp.
Thoughts were bouncing through my head I knew what I had to think of, one of them was all the good running I had done in racing and training up and down hills and all the speed work. The other was a memory from supporting at ironman Bolton when I ran with Craig after him finishing went to find Gemma to see her home. So if she can get though her huge achievement and pain and negative thoughts I can get through this next 2 miles. If not shed shout at me telling me to run.
Running into the town of ambleside it all came to me I was 300m from the finish I couldn’t believe I was going to finish hold the pain and emotion back I pushed on as fast as my body would carry me….
Done I crossed the finish line the medal hanging heavy around my neck as I completed the toughest half iron distance triathlon in the world.
It took me a few weeks to think whether id return to it or not but once id been to hospital and found id broken my scaphoid bone in my right wrist and required surgery I knew I needed to go back for redemption.
I could not have done this race without the ongoing support and encouragement from Mr Steve Clark and all the people that I have trained with other the past year. All the people that believed in me and encouraged me thought this journey. Thank you so much. Big thanks to my family for the support wouldn’t be here without any of you.
After seeing race pictures and videos from Ironman Wales in the build up to last year’s race in 2017 I was intrigued. I had also seen Triathlon 220’s list of the toughest 11 Ironman’s, with Wales listed at number 9! There was a mix of terror and excitement about it.
I have never, ever, ever, ever imagined that I would even attempt an Ironman. I’ve had issues with my knees due to poor alignment of my knee caps for years, my attempt at running a marathon ended up with me laying in an MRI machine and 4 months off running. But with on-going physio and a carefully structured training plan, this is seemingly under control.
I had not even considered any other races; Ironman Wales, or the Dragon, was somehow calling to me…
When I mentioned it to my coach, Steve he did not even flinch and said, ‘yep you could do Wales’.
So on one dark September Sunday morning in 2017, when most of my friends were awaking to hangovers, I was awaking to the fact I had signed up to Ironman Wales 2018. What on earth had I done!
I was already a triathlete, I had completed a half Ironman distance but on a flat course, and had raced many sprint distances and a couple of standards, but this was going to be a next level challenge.
There was going to be lots of obstacles to overcome, keeping the wonky knee-caps in check, sorting my swim out, getting in some long bike rides and not to mention that I had never even ran a marathon before! But despite all this I was confident that if I just followed the plan, all would be OK.
My biggest obstacle to overcome was cycling. I had not ridden over 60 miles that I had actually enjoyed. My last 100 mile bike ride I wanted to throw my bike in a hedge, walk home and never ride my bike again. So this year I was hoping to just learn to endure it, but I actually learnt to love it! Just on my own terms. I realised I am not a group rider, so I had to just get out there on my own, which meant learning to deal with mechanicals by myself and this year I’ve pretty much learnt how to take my bike apart and put it back together.
It has been a huge commitment and took a lot of organisation to fit all the sessions in but I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I have learnt so much about myself. Mainly that I am completely anti-social and enjoy nothing more than being on my own riding my bike, or running- but that’s OK for a triathlete right!?
So onto the race…
Registration or race briefing had been nothing like I had imagined. I had thought I would casually register and enjoy the whole experience but it was so busy it was actually quite stressful.
I was mega prepared with what I needed in each bag, I had my nutrition plan laminated and stuck on my top tube, I had lists of what to pack in each bag, what I needed for the morning, even down to what I was going to eat the day before!
Checking my bike over on Saturday morning my back brake was sticking, I took it for a check by the bike mechanics and they said a new cable was needed. This was quite stressful as they was really busy and not certain they could fix it in time before transition closed, they would have to rack it for me. This was less than ideal but I had to leave my bike with them and take my bags to transition.
Another layer of stress I had not mentally prepared for! However, not long after I had left transition they called me to say it was done, so back into transition for the second time. Tenby was manic at this point. The Ironkidsrace was on so there were so many people, pushing my bike through the crowd was less than ideal. I was glad to get back to my apartment and chill out for the rest of the day
I had slept really well. My 3:45am get up was easier than I imagined, so I ate my over night oats, put my kit on, collected my check-list and off I went. In transition it was so dark it was difficult to see pumping up my tyres and putting my nutrition on my bike. Checking my bike in the morning I realised I had forgot body balm for my neck, my wetsuit occasional chafes but in sea water I knew it could be much worse, I had a lip balm in my bike bag so put a bit of this on hoping it would do. (After note- it did not do! My neck was actually bleeding by the time I got to T1)
Following some milling about it was time to head to swim start.
On the walk down to the swim I realised I had forgot my earplugs. I hadn’t done a single open water swim without them this year so this was a huge mistake but there was not a thing I could do about it at that point so would just have to pull my swim cap down a little lower. It was on the walk to the swim where I realised how busy it was. It was 6.00am on a Sunday morning and the streets were absolutely packed. The ramp down to swim start was lined with people, children and dogs, it was quite a spectacle. Even a man dressed in a full dragon outfit at that time in a morning was completely surreal.
As I saw the first of the age groupers run into the water, I thought ‘oh crap’ I usually tip-toe in, float on my back a bit, faff with my goggles, then swim, but amazingly I got in there and did it, no faffing, straight in and off.
I managed to find my own space and relax in a bit of a rhythm, getting bunched up to go around the buoys was a bit hectic but fine. I really managed to just find a nice rhythm and just enjoyed catching a glimpse of the sunrise whenever I breathed to that side. I did have Steve’s voice in my head ‘ you swim well when you relax’ so that is exactly what I did and just enjoyed it. About 100m from shore on the first lap it happened, I hit a Jellyfish, I caught sight of it too, it was huge, bigger than a dinner plate! I waited for the pain but there was none and then began to feel bad for the poor thing just floating along and then getting bashed by me.
On to the Aussie exit, I just took my sweet little time had a nice walk in the sand, I couldn’t wait to get back in. Second lap, more jelly fish, I hit another shortly into it, then felt a sting on my wrist. I’m guilty of dropping my elbows and basically having a terrible catch sometimes when I swim, there is nothing like the fear of hitting a jellyfish to correct this! In total I hit four, was stung by one and saw many.
The swim seemed to go really quickly and was pretty low stress, I had really enjoyed it, even with the jellyfish.
As it is such a long run into transition from the sea there is a ‘pink bag’ option to have some trainers to put on for the run. This was probably my favourite and most surreal moment of the day. Running through the streets of Tenby half in my wet suit, carrying a little pink carrier bag with thousands of people cheering you on was insane! I’ve never felt so ridiculous in my life but it was brilliant!
As this was my first Ironman I had no expectations on time and just wanted to finish so I had made the decision to fully change in transition so I would be comfortable for the long and hilly bike route. Wobbling about putting my cycling kit on in transition was hilarious and it felt like it took an age but at least I was now sand and salt water free and feeling fresh.
Onto the bike.
Again- not worrying about the time I decided I would just take toilet stops, even though going for a wee in bib shorts is not quick. I had not anticipated I would need to stop 4 times! Well at least I was keeping well hydrated! Each time I stopped there were some lovely children there to hold my bike and it was really nice talking to them about my bike and my kit, the girls I met were particularly impressed with my pink tyres which was really sweet. I stopped at Narbeth twice and the girls remembered my name and wanted to hold my bike again for me
Seeing my mum and husband at mile 40 I really wanted to tell them about the jellyfish I had seen but the cheering was so loud they couldn’t hear me. There is a hilarious picture of me holding up 4 fingers- which was ‘I touched 4 jelly fish’. The final time I saw them I was heading into a head wind and was 75 miles in so was starting to feel it; there were no attempts to explain my adventures this time around.
Hearing James Brown belted out in the middle of nowhere was a particular on course highlight.
It was perfect cycling and closed roads were amazing! Despite all this I did not enjoy the bike as much as I thought I would. I think the anxiety of just finishing it was looming over me so I was just glad to get it done. As I’ve been unlucky with mechanicals recently I was so anxious about a DNF due to one but my bike ran like a dream and I loved the quick downhills with no worry of traffic.
Another full change and out onto the run. The anxiety of a DNF was now under control as I knew I had the time to finish. Despite this the first 2k were hell! My back hurt, my legs hurt, but most of all- I realised I was so hungry! The smell of doughnuts and chips was pure torture. I had enough gel blocks to get me through the run but couldn’t stomach them and needed something savoury. Never in my life have I been so happy to see dry crackers. I stuffed these along with nachos and bananas down at every aid station on the first lap. I managed to run the first 2 laps, by the third the pain was undeniable and I had to walk. I knew I had plenty of time and rationalised that the time saved running would just add to my recovery as I was certain I had re-torn muscles.
On the run the crowd support was unreal! So much cheering and shouting, it was amazing but as it got dark and some of the supporters had left and there was less competitors on course it became a little lonely.
Having drunken men shout about my bum as I complete in one of the toughest Ironman courses in the world was a low-light and completely inappropriate leaving me feeling a little vulnerable on the course in the dark, not what I had expected at such a large event. However, I kept my s**t together, tried not to grind my teeth too loudly and continued on the run, at this point walking, on to the final lap! By this time it was quite dark and I was so glad to get out of the madness of the town and just have a nice quiet walk in the dark. I was enjoying watching a bat and maybe even having a little sing to myself, however, the biggest low of the day was yet to come…
When power walking up hill into New Hedges about 500m before the Red Bull turn around point a very drunk man came out of no where and grabbed me, trying to make me run up the hill. I felt quite on my own at this point and understandably very tired, I was F**king livid! These and a couple of other incidents on the run I am not going to let put a downer on what was an absolutely amazing day.
I did walk with a few other competitors and had a chat, which was really nice and helped to pass the time. I had some absolutely lovely moments on the run too, some really nice words of support.
As I came into the town for the fourth time I was dreading running by the pubs again, but I just blanked it out and got a move on, shuffling along.
The winding course through town felt the longest ever, but when I saw the red carpet it was complete relief! As I stepped on the carpet the crowd went mad. My memory of what happened next completely fails me, I don’t even remember getting my medal but I remember seeing Lucy Gossage who was heading to hand out medals giving me a ‘well done’ pat on the arm as she walked past.
That was it. I had done it! I still can’t quite believe it. It has been such an amazing journey and I have learnt more about myself than I ever imagined I would. I have absolutely loved every bit of training, it was tough and hectic to fit in at times, but I will certainly be doing it again, just when and where is the bit I need to figure out…
I have to say a huge thank-you to my husband who despite thinking I am absolutely insane has been really supportive, from running in the rain with me, to mountain biking out to bring me water and snacks on my long runs, to putting up with the noise of the turbo trainer!
To Steve as without his coaching I would not have even had the confidence to attempt this Ironman malarkey. To all the training buddies I have made along the way, it has been fab having so much support. I am really excited for next year!
Here we go again! Tenby the town where everyone knows your name and you feel like a rock star. Following the catastrophe 2 weeks before IM Wales 2017 (going over on my ankle and causing severe ligament and tendon damage), as soon as entry opened I was in again for another go. Following my injury I managed to get a place in 2018 London marathon also but I didn’t think I would be able to do it justice so I deferred until 2019. With a lot going on domestically also it meant training for Wales didn’t really start until June when I asked Steve to throw a plan together for me. My ankle still not 100% but at least I could run this year!
The weekend was shared with fellow athletes Gary Horner, Brad Porter and Dean Atkinson and a top notch support crew which through rivalry, camaraderie and banter made it an awesome weekend, especially as we all completed it.
We met at registration and the competition had already started between us to see who could buy the most IM gear from the Expo, it was a close one and I’m sure Gary wanted a towel but the ‘Boss’ said no! We had a quick walk through the athlete village, checked transition and swim start before checking into our house – what a fab place, so good I have booked it again next year. We returned to North beach for a quick swim in the sea. High tide was 1730 and there were quite a few who had the same idea. Not too far but a good swim to calm the nerves and eliminate the worry of the hoards of jelly fish reported – I think I saw one. Return to the house and a quick spin on the bike where Gary and I got lost. We rode just under 9 miles but did more elevation than the local two bridges ride which is around 48 miles door to door – this would be the theme of the weekend, not many flat roads round here!
Saturday was another chilled and relaxed day. Race brief at 1000 following which bikes and transitions bags were dropped off – it was happening, no turning back now. It had been raining all Friday night and Saturday morning but had stopped by this point, the forecast wasn’t actually too bad for race day for a change as 2017 was brutal (40mph winds and torrential rain), another relaxing evening with a meal in a local pub and early night. 0330 and the alarm was going off, I had actually slept well. The others were up also sharing the delight of forcing breakfast down in an ungodly hour. We travelled to transition together, it was a bit like we started together, and we finished together. Final preparations were made in transition and bikes loaded with food. The call came at 0620 to start making our way on to the high street where the self-seeded queue for the swim start began. We had had discussions on what time we would line up at, much to my discontent, we ended up at the 1 hour 5 marker but we all started together. 0645 and it was time for the Welsh national anthem, following which we decided we were going to become Welsh! It was sung by a male opera singer (who was also racing) and about ten thousand other people – spine tingling is the only way to describe it.
0655 saw the pro’s start and the fastest swimmers of the Age Groupers starting at 0700. I believe we entered the water at 0708. The dash for the first buoy was a bit too hectic for my liking when we made the turn I stayed to the edge trying to keep out of the way. By the time I had reached the next buoy, things had calmed down a bit as everyone had found their rhythm and pace. The swim felt relaxed and comfortable with no further incidents. I remember looking at my watch as I did the Aussie exit after the first lap and it being 41 minutes something, lap two and there was more room as the field had strung out. I had remembered looking at the position of the buoys from the harbour the previous day and thinking they seem a long way – it seems they were. My swim was over 400m longer than it should be and I was tight on the buoys all the way round. I stopped my watch as I stood up at 1:22:45 before running onto the beach where the timing mats were better than I expected especially for 4289meters (My official swim time slightly longer as I came out of the water thinking I should be looking like Daniel Craig!). Transition is 1km away so you have the joys of running up the zigzag path and then through the town. When I got into transition I remember seeing Gary ready to cycle. A quick change and away I went. I decided to take it easy on the bike knowing how hard the marathon is, probably a little too easy to be honest. I passed Brad on the way to Angle a quick chat then onwards expecting him to catch me up on the hills but never saw Gary on the bike course, yet it turns out at some point I must have passed him and not realised. There was the usual head wind for the first 20 miles or so then that is replaced by relentless hills. I was passed by the two male leaders when I was on the first lap of the big loop, they were on their second. This also happened in 2017 but I was happy that I was further on the course this year. The bike was completed without drama, back to transition, quick change and away, 4 laps of Tenby – basically 3 miles uphill and 3 miles downhill, the repeat. The first lap I ran l the way taking just over 62 minutes. The remaining laps saw me slowing to a walk on the steepest parts then run the remainder. I remember seeing Gary on his way out of Tenby as I was on my way back in on my first lap but as I hadn’t seen him on the bike I assumed he was a lap in front of me. Even when I had finished I was convinced he had already completed the course! Brad, Gary and I passed each other in opposite directions numerous times on each lap. A quick check on how we were doing as we passed. The marathon seemed to fly by until about 25.5 miles where my legs just seized up. I had to walk a little through the town to free them off then before the last turn I was determined not to walk across the finish line so managed to run the last few hundred meters – job done! There is no other way of describing this race other than brutal. Around 8000ft of ascent on the bike and almost 2000ft on the run.
I cannot explain in words what the atmosphere was like in Tenby as the whole town just embraces it, 2017 was awesome in terrible conditions, 2018 surpassed this by a mile as with better weather the streets were absolutely rammed like you have never seen – I have experienced nothing like it.
Thanks as usual to Steve Clark at Off That Couch Fitness for expert guidance and coaching, Gary, Brad and Dean and not forgetting our fab support crew who we shared this magic experience with.
Here’s to next year with a third visit to slay the dragon and a warm up in Bolton first!
2018 and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships were in South Africa. Unlike the crown jewel of the Ironman full distance World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The 70.3 equivalent has rather attractively been given free reign to roam across the globe. With previous years in Austria, Australia and 2017 the USA, it was the turn of a whole new continent for Ironman to host a premium event, with Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
race report 29/07/18
Last year I saw such huge improvements in my sprint distance times I looked to the next challenge and decided I’d go longer so a standard distance race it was. At that point it was quite a challenge for me to contemplate as I wasn’t regularly running much further than 6-7km and I was only really doing 1hr or so on the bike. Swimming is my strength so I wasn’t concerned about that as I have quite a bit of open water experience and long-ish swims are right up my alley. My problem was that I wasn’t prepared to just get round the course, I wanted to finish the race feeling I’d done the best I could in the situation I was in. I’d love to be one of those people who don’t put pressure on themselves and are happy with whatever happens but I know myself well enough and I knew I wouldn’t be on the start line if I didn’t try my best. I’m not under any illusion that I am amazing but for me there is no challenge if I don’t put pressure on myself and then why bother!
So I pretty much did as I was told, I had weekly personal training sessions with Steve and a programme for in between. Every week when Steve uploaded my training onto TrainingPeaks, Andy and I would sit down write it all on the family planner that I found in Wilko’s for all those other stationary obsessed out there (we sound way more organised than we really are!!!) Once the training was in the planner we worked out who would train when, who would collect each child and how the dog fitted into it all. Once that was sorted it was just a case of following the weeks plan. Mostly it worked, Andy is training for Lanzarote 70.3 so some weekends were hectic with 6 or 7 hours of training to manage between us in one day but we did it. My smuggest moment was returning home after a 2hr 30min ride by 08.30 am just as Andy was walking up the street to school and nursery with the kids. That day I was winning at life!
Given that we have had the longest spell of hot dry weather in my memory, it never entered my head that I would be facing anything other than hot sunny conditions. I bought a visor as a full baseball cap made my head too hot, I worried about sun burn as I am the palest skinned person you will meet. Then the weekend of the race the forecast was awful, 100% chance of rain from 2am to 3pm on race day and 20mph winds with gusts up to 40mph. WHAT! This is not how its supposed to be, I’ve trained for this, I only ever imagined nice weather and I was absolutely not prepared for this!
We stayed the night before in a hotel and as I put the kids to bed I sent Andy out to find a supermarket to buy an umbrella as he had to wrangle a 5 and 3yr old for the duration and we were not prepared for wet weather. That night I kind of considered that the conditions may impact on the safety of the race but all I could do was wait til the race brief and see how the weather really was.
The next morning I felt pretty good, it was very windy and wet as forecasted and we arrived at the venue to find the field for parking and the field that transition was in had recently had sheep in and there was more poo on the dried out grass than I have ever seen before and coupled with the rain it made for squelchy under foot conditions. Wonderful I thought sarcastically, “yacky” the kids shouted. All registered and racked I got my wetsuit on as it was the best way to keep warm and waited for the race brief. My hands were blue, it was freezing in the rain and wind. Apparently they were struggling with the bouys drifting so the swim was likely to be longer and soon enough we could get in the reservoir to warm up and warm up I did! The water was warmer that the air temp and very welcome indeed. The wind was whipping up waves and the sky was grey, the visibility wasn’t great and I could just make out the next bouy.
Despite all this I relaxed into the swim and had a great swim, I hardly saw another swimmer and had an uneventful swim. It was tough as there was a long stretch into the wind and it felt like the waves were pushing me backwards but being a bilateral breather was a real advantage as was the endless pool sessions as it was just like swimming against the motor. I got out the water and a Marshall shouted “it’s a woman” then he said as I went past “you’ve had a good swim” I looked at my watch and the time was 5 mins over what I was expecting but there were most of the bikes in transition still so it can’t have been that bad. I assumed the conditions affected some more than me. I later found out I was the 4th women out of the water and 18th out the water overall.
I got off on my bike after squelching the sheep poo between my toes and even though the rain was stinging my face and the wind was strong I felt good. It was a 2 lap course and the first lap flew by and I overtook a couple of women so I felt it was going well, I was overtaken by a lot of men but I expected that. I looked at the distance on my watch at one point and I only had 10km left and I felt good still and I thought “bloody hell Sarah! You’ve nearly done this!” I wasn’t surprised I could do it but I was surprised that I was loving it and I hadn’t had a single negative thought once. The rain was pouring and the wind was blowing but it felt like the sun was shining on me at that moment, I absolutely felt on top of the world. I had a phrase stuck in my head “concentrate on smooth pedalling” from Steve’s watt bike sessions on TrainingPeaks so I did and before I knew it I was running. I’d recently got new trainers and they felt like slippers, I was loving life! Everything was amazing, I congratulated every runner I saw on the 2 lap about and back course and they smiled back and high fived me the next time I saw them. Waves from the reservoir were blowing over the dam wall and it was still raining. My 3 piece support crew all dressed in OTCF tops cheered me on from the wound down car window and I felt so sorry for Andy as spectating at triathlons is my specialty and I know it’s not easy to occupy two small children so in the weather conditions I really felt sorry for him but he was armed with snacks and YouTube.
In the last 2km I realised that I was on the home straight and there were plenty of competitors still heading out on the last lap so I was doing too badly! I picked up the pace for the last 2km and crossed the finish line smiling and was greeted by my damp family. The marshals and organisers did amazing in the circumstances as the weather was appalling.
I’d done it and only 1 min slower than I hoped but given the conditions I wasn’t bothered by that. I’d had the time of my life and I enthusiastically text Steve to say I liked the standard distance more than sprint distance so you guessed it I’m doing another in a month! Be careful people don’t mention anything to Steve Clark that you don’t really want to do, 1 hour with Steve and you believe you can do all sorts of things. The truth is you can do them, you just have to believe in yourself as much as he does. Thanks Steve x
It’s December 2017 and I give Steve the nod that I’m ready to get into my plan that will take me to Ironman Bolton 2018. 6 months of prep to get myself in the best possible shape for the biggest race of my life. I always knew this was going to be a steep learning curve as Bolton would be my 5th ever triathlon but mentally I was prepared to do whatever it takes. What I didn’t prepare myself for was the impact the training would have on the rest of my life. Early morning sessions in the dead of winter test the toughest of mental strength, long distance training at a weekend whatever the weather including a 19 mile solo park run in the snow; it seemed horrible at the time but looking back these are possibly some of the best sessions to not only build physical strength but metal strength too.
As the weeks flew by it was evident there was less and less time spent with family and friends but they were all nothing but supportive, fortunately my wife Gemma was also doing Bolton so even though we are training all hours we can get some of our sessions in together or at least the same time whilst offering each other support.
3 weeks before Bolton I took on Hatfield half and had a strong race, this was the first opportunity I had to see how the training had gone and I felt ready; all I had to do now was look after myself and stick to Steve’s taper plan then it would be plan sailing to race day, or so I thought. We had prepared ourselves as best we possibly could taking to two trips to Bolton to recce the bike course so there was no surprise on race day. Two weeks out I saw on the news that there were fires on the hills around Bolton, ok I thought no problem a fire can’t possibly burn for two weeks. Due to the unusual weather we had the fires were still burning 1 week from race day, so now I’m panicking and thinking oh god it’s going to be cancelled. On the Tuesday before the race we got the email explaining that the bike course had been altered due to the fires and the route will now be 95 miles and to make matters worse the swim is in doubt due to high levels of blue/green Algae present at Pennington flash. My heart sank and then came all the negative comments from various social media saying that even if the swim goes ahead you still won’t become an Ironman because of the bike distance. I was now feeling totally heartbroken; this is not how I imagine the build up to feel.
After some messages of support from some amazing people and words of encouragement from Steve I felt a lot more positive and all I could do is race what’s in front of me. I took myself away from the social Medea negativity and got myself focused. It’s Friday night and we made our way to the hotel just outside Pennington flash to get a good meal and an early night. Saturday morning up and on to race registration where we collected our race numbers attended the briefing where it was confirmed the swim would go ahead and had an explanation of why the bike course had to be altered.
I remember Paul Kaye saying the bike is now down to 95 miles the bad news is that the new section is a bigger climb and far more technical which after all our prep means there will still be some surprises on the bike leg. We then dropped our run gear at T2 then make our way to Pennington flash to rack the bike and hand the bike gear in T1. All of a sudden I felt calm; I guess at that point I realised there is no more I can do except relax and get some food. 3am race day I’m up and on with no thought about the silly time to be getting out of bed, had a quick shower & made my porridge then off the catch the bus to the swim. There was an air of calm on the bus with all other athletes so I quietly tucked into my breakfast which let me tell you is not as easy as you might think at 4am.
We arrive in T1 do the final checks to the bikes and make our way to the swim start, it’s here I kiss Gemma and wish her luck; feeling very emotional at leaving her knowing she’s scared I take my place on the start. I listen to the national anthem then I hear AC/DC Thunder struck come on; with the adrenaline pumping and emotion I cannot describe I jump in and start my race.
Within what seems like minutes I’m in the Australian exit heading into my second loop, for some reason this time it seems so busy I could not find my rhythm or relax but all I can do is keep moving and try to find some space, finally out of the murky water and blinding sun I spot the finishing flags then bang I get a almighty bang on the back of my head which instantly makes me feel sick. I climb out of the water and into T1 where I’m trying to stop myself being sick. I took my time getting into my bike gear and had a good drink of coke which I had in my transition bag and I instantly felt better.
I’m now mounting the bike thinking thank god I got through the swim I can now start to relax and enjoy the ride. I set off steady away for the first 10 mile and I was buzzing feeling strong and enjoying the crowds in the street party atmosphere.
After taking in my first lot of nutrition I hit the new climb and it certainly was a test, then after a short flat you start the technical decent with a few 90 degree bends lined with stone walls wrapped in hay bales like something from the Isle of Man TT. My brakes were getting that hot I could smell them, I loved it.
35 miles in I spotted a few friendly faces in the crowd, I had no idea how good this would feel as for some reason during the whole race you are surrounded by people it somehow feels very lonely. Onwards to mile 45 I felt good and another big group of support with flags and banners saying go team scotty don’t be shit.
Onto loop number two I made sure I was keeping on top of my nutrition and fluids, and before I knew it I was passing all the support again. It was now I allowed my mind to start thinking about the run; this was the first point I started to feel the legs getting tired and had a little panic about the run but I also remember people saying put trust in your training.
Quick change in T2 then easy run out to try and gauge how I was feeling; the answer to that was not good; legs like lead and also feeling the heat for the first time which was now around the 27 degrees mark. I thought just keep going to the first feed station. I made my way up the climb through the park and around 2 miles in I stop at the feed station grab some salty crisps and flat coke. I then set off and instantly felt like I had more energy so from now on my plan was to run feed station to feed station making sure I took in fluids and food at every opportunity.
I start lap two where I see Gemma for the first time since I left her at the swim and I was so happy she was onto the run and hadn’t had any drama in the swim or on the bike. After I gave her some words of encouragement I was back on my way. I start my 3rd lap still feeling pretty comfortable and I remember thinking once I have done this one you are on your way home, I remember seeing fellow OTCF athletes Mark and Karen and thinking we may not be winning but we definitely look the best in our White, green and black tri suits.
I then near the end of the 3rd lap and get handed my 4th wrist band and for the first time I thought OMG I’m actually going to do this. With that I felt so full of energy I unknowingly picked up the pace and managed my fastest split on the final lap.
I’m now just 200 meters from the finish and I see Gemma stood waiting on the switch back, I could see she was struggling in the heat so I gave her a cuddle and told her not to give up, I didn’t want to leave her knowing she was struggling but she stood back and told me to go become an Ironman. Unknowingly one of our friends captured this very moment and every time I look at the picture I feel so emotional.
Off I go and make the turn into the finish shoot I see our friends who had supported us all day, give them a high five and make my way over line and hear those amazing words “Craig Scott you are Ironman” that’s it I had done it.
I felt fairly calm and extremely exhausted but it was when the photographer put his arm around me and said you are all just amazing that my emotions got the better of me and the tears started to flow. After an hour or so I made my way out of the finish area to meet up with all our friends, I was literally on top of the world. My official finish time was 11:21:04 I was so proud and happy that all the hard work had paid off. I was now sat watching Gemma complete her race just trying to take in what has just happened but to be honest I think that will take a while.
The time comes for Gemma to cross the line after a big fight to keep going but she did it, I could not have been more proud of her for not giving up.
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that made the trip to Bolton to support, you have no idea how much you all mean to us, big thanks to Steve Clark for the training plan, guidance and just been there whenever we had any questions or self-doubt. To sum it up yes it’s hard yes it takes a huge amount of dedication but is it worth it” hell yes”
Anyway I have to go now I’ve got 6 months’ worth of grass to cut 😉
Long report ahead sorry!!
I made a deal with my friend Claire in 2015 if she would enter a marathon I would enter a triathlon. Fast forward 2 years; I completed my first triathlon Lincolnshire Edge and a week later did a half Ironman at Steelman. After Steelman I casually mentioned to Steve do you think I am capable of an Ironman and was surprised to hear him say yes! So I went home entered both myself and Craig and began to train for the biggest event of my life. I am quite experienced at endurance events being a marathon runner, but I wasn’t underestimating that this was going to be a massive learning curve for us both. I was willing to do what it took to become an Ironman and that meant trusting Steve to train us.
Training I fell into the routine quite well although it was hard; rest days were quite a mental battle as I felt guilty I wasn’t training. Swimming through winter in a pool is frustrating when you have people that don’t follow pool etiquette and timetables that don’t allow you the time to get your full sessions in, so we did the best with the time we had. Also early morning sessions at 5am on the turbo fasted were interesting.
Luckily with Craig training for the Ironman we were able to support each other & we also have the most amazing support from our friends from running laps of park run in the ice and snow, to the long bike rides in all weathers.
Training started to pay off early on as I found I was PB’ing all my races, so I was getting faster but running a lot less, at one point only 11 miles a week.
3 weeks before Ironman we took part in a Half Distance Triathlon at Hatfield. I had a great race, swimming faster than last year, cycling stronger and having one of the strongest runs off the bike. It gave me so much confidence going into Ironman and after doing 2 recce’s of the Bolton Bike course I felt strong enough to complete the course within the cut offs something that I had been worrying about during all my training.
The week leading up to Ironman was a massive emotional rollercoaster for me. We found out on the Tuesday that the bike course had changed due to the fires that had occurred on Sheep House Lane and to add salt to the wounds the course was going to be cut short by 17 miles and it was still touch and go whether the swim would go ahead due to the blue algae. I was gutted especially when I read all the negative comments from various social media posts saying that even if the swim goes ahead you still won’t become an Ironman because of the bike distance.
The race we had been training towards was looking more and more likely to not be happening. It was emotionally draining, and I had basically made the decision that the whole race was going to end up being a bike/run so I’d given up on the idea of becoming an Ironman. After a pep talk from Steve and some words of encouragement from amazing people I tried to push the negativity back & focus on the race.
Anyways fast forward to Saturday morning…we headed to registration & I felt so queasy and nervous. I didn’t know still at this point if the swim was going ahead and I was starting to doubt my abilities, something I know is completely normal during tapering.
Registration was so efficient, the lady who served me made me feel at ease and gave me an “I will become one” wristband. We then headed to race briefing and were put at complete ease as “Paul Kaye” IM Legend as he briefed us through the day ahead of us. The first thing he talked about was the negativity that was surrounding the 10th anniversary of Ironman UK. He said that no real Ironman would judge someone on the distance given the fact that most Ironman courses are short and the fact it is a huge task to complete one. He basically told us to ignore the negativity, take pride in achieving the end goal and after the new hill they had added we would be glad it was 112 miles as it was tougher – “Oh crap” I have a hill I don’t know if I can get up. He also informed us the swim was going ahead which was such a relief. It then hit home I was going to be doing an ironman the next day.
We then went back to the car filled the individual bags with our kit and headed off to T2 to drop the bag off and familiarise ourselves with the layout; then headed to Pennington Flash to go rack the bikes up. Once racked and we’d deflated the tyres we headed to the swim start. It didn’t look as scary as I thought, and I was stupidly excited about it by now. Tomorrow I will become an Ironman eek!!
After a relaxing afternoon and carb loading at Frankie & Benny’s with friends we headed back to the hotel for an early night. Tomorrow was going to be a long day and we had to be up at 3am.
Why can I not sleep the night before a race? I saw every hour panicking I had slept in and finally got out of bed at 3am. I prepared my porridge, calmly got ready then headed off to Bolton to catch the bus to the start. Probably the quickest I have ever got ready in my life.
I was nervously trying to force down my porridge at 4am which I can tell you is not an easy thing to do and kept looking at other athletes thinking how are you all so calm? We arrived at T1 & headed to the bikes to do our final checks of the bike.
Then it was wetsuit on, drop off special needs bags and finisher kit bag and toilet stop. I was relieved once I had been to the toilet (I’m sure everyone can relate to that) and we then headed to the start zones where our amazing support team were waiting for us.
I lined up in the 1hr 30 pen kissed Craig goodbye then they played the national anthem, followed by with Thunderstruck by AC/DC. I was now in the zone & on my way to the water. I remember entering the water and thinking “Wow it’s like a hot bath” but I just placed myself to the side and I was off. I was straight into a comfortable pace (Steve said start steady and build) but within 100m I got kicked in the face and my goggles moved so I had to stop readjust them and continue. I began reaching out just that little bit more to ensure I wasn’t too close on someone’s feet. I was quite surprised I didn’t panic as it was my worst nightmare so a result for me.
I had a few more near misses and was swum over a few times but I just kicked faster when people got close. Heading back towards the shore the buoys were too small to see with the sun so I just followed everyone else and hoped for the best. I was out at the Australian Exit I seemed to be the only one running when I got out and made up a few places and before I knew it I was back in for my second lap “Only 1 more lap and I’ve survived the swim”. This lap I manage to avoid any hiccups until I was headed back to shore. I had 2 people swim over me and kick me which I managed to swallow some water not ideal but kept composed. Then this bloke swam so close to me that as he went to catch his right arm he managed to dunk my head with his elbow and I swallowed a full mouthful of pond water…gross! Now I was getting mad, not good and I probably swam harder because of it.
Phew I’m out of that dirty lake & onto T1. I stopped at the feed station and downed 2 cups of coke I was so dehydrated from the swim that I took my time walking. Into T1 I grabbed my bag and sat down on a bench and started to get changed. I felt shattered from an exhausting swim, but I had to now concentrate on the next stage the bike. Stupidly I didn’t keep an eye on the time and before I knew it I’d been in transition 20 mins what I am I doing!! I honestly didn’t know where the time went and it was a massive fail on my part.
Onto the bike and I really struggled to get going sat at 13mph. It took me 5 miles to find my legs but then I was rising to 16-18mph which was more like it. I was so dehydrated that I had drank one of my bottles in the first 30 mins. This was not what had happened in training so I was a bit concerned. First hill a lady shouted to me get in your bottom gears and I soon realised why. Wow steep, people falling off, people walking, ok spin and play the piano. I was soon up then a turn and up again I’d climbed it! “Sheep house is easier than this” (words I didn’t think would pop into my head). Then the wrestlers oh they were amazing; made me smile which got a response of “You’re the only one still smiling love”.
Ok technical descents are not my strength, I was on both brakes and I was still doing 22mph dodging pot holes and the wall at the bottom. Sadly I saw an ambulance and a lady in a bad way, I made it!! It wasn’t long before I was lapped by Lucy Gossage so I shouted support to her and continued eating and drinking at regular intervals. Next feed station there was some friendly faces and I picked up fresh bottles managed to not drop any after advice from Steve to practice!! It was then onto the second big climb, Hunters Hill. It was here I witnessed a grown man throw a very expensive bike into the hedge because his chain came off. I thought wow got settled into my spin and climbed up my first ever Tour De France style climb it was amazing, the crowds were fantastic. And I was up, no walking only 1 of each left to do and I’m on a home stretch.
Just about to start the second loop and I see my amazing friends so I stop for a hug, pep talk something about not being shit and I head off. Let’s do this!! Back through the feed station refuel, getting slightly concerned I have drank mainly water (4 bottles now) and not tailwind as I am so thirsty but I had been eating regularly. Up the hill of hell everyone is now walking but I force myself to keep spinning and I’m at the top in no time and ready for the descent which luckily there were no more casualties this time. The remaining time flew by although I had started to get back ache by this point probably from the beast of a hill I hadn’t prepared for and I was thankful I was heading towards my strength. Back towards T2 I was passing the runners, it was hot and I was looking for Craig as I was making my way past them.
Into T2 I racked my bike took off my shoes and jogged to the tent. It was scorching hot so I applied sun cream extra Vaseline but still managed to end up in T2 for over 10 mins; I need to work on transition next time. Had a quick toilet stop & then headed out. I managed to run 0.25 of a mile and I had to walk. I couldn’t breathe and my legs were like jelly. Oh no, this is not good. Ok run to next feed station without walking, I failed miserably. My head started to drop and I knew it was going to be a long day. I kept run walking until I saw friends and stopped to tell them how I was feeling. They tried to encourage me and I started to run again but not managing to go for long.
I was getting mad but worried which was making me hyperventilate. My head was screaming at me to run but I couldn’t. So I just kept trying to run walk and sipped Pepsi at the feed stations. Once I had got through the first lap I saw Craig with 200m to go. He asked me if I was ok and I told him I couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to leave me but I told him to go and become an Ironman (I still well up now thinking about it). I was so proud of him! I continued a fighting battle with my head and body and ended up taking off my heart monitor which helped me feel less restricted. On my third lap I was joined by a couple of friends who basically distracted me from the pain I was in. I started to feel loads better and I was coping with sipping coke and walk running. I was slowly ticking off the miles. Last lap, ok this was not pretty. The last feed station before entering the park had run out of coke so I had 2 miles to go to get more coke. The climb through the park broke me. I felt dizzy completely empty was sick and had to lie down. I had a talking to by a certain coach Cannings and after a few minutes I got up and continued to the next feed station. By then the thought of Pepsi made me sick, but I knew I had to take it. Approaching the turn point I gave up. I can’t do it; I’ll not make the cut off all the above came out of my mouth. I was broken a state I hadn’t been in since doing the wall the year before. Craig appeared; he had run 5k to get to me as he’d heard I was in a bad state…my hero!!
I then had Mr Cannings give me a few choice words “You will f***ing finish this Ironman” (I made Steve swear oops)! The officials had told me I had to get moving or they would have to pull me off the course. So I began the hardest park run I have ever done in my life. I ran the down hills, had a quad, bike marshal, friends, drink station crew & Craig run behind me to get me to the finish. The last half a mile my calf started to cramp (argh!!) so I had to keep walking then running. 200 meters to go this was it I was going to make it. It took everything I had to keep moving. I turned the corner and there it was my finish line so I ran, it hurt, but I had the best finish line experience ever. I crossed the line then sat on the podium. Paul Kaye called me back said those magic words “Gemma Scott you are an Ironman”, and then I was presented my medal by Lucy Gossage my heroine!
In a nut shell I want to thank everyone that has supported both Craig & I, those that stayed until I finished, those who ran/walked with me, friends at home tracking us, trained with us, Steve for being there through all my training listening to my stupid questions and lastly Craig for doing another lap to make sure I finished.
To sum up my Ironman Journey, it’s worth it, it’s not easy and yes I have signed up to do it next year!
This may be the longest yet, sorry!
My Ironman Journey
So my journey starts in 2017 after my 30+ year love affair with rugby came to a natural end I was looking for a new challenge. And there it was, my inspirational friend Steve Cook taking part in an Ironman as a Para Athelete following a horrific road traffic accident, I decided there and then that I would complete an Ironman. The fact that I hadn’t even attempted a triathlon before wasn’t even a consideration.
I decided I needed help so tagged along with Steve Smith and came to a GRY TRI swim session, I used to swim a bit (24 years before) how hard could it be? It took about 25m to find out, as thats all I could manage without stopping for breath. I thought to myself shit how many lengths is 2.4miles!
Next up I joined the Chain Gang, not really ridden the bike much (and when I did I wasn’t good) so which group fast, medium or slow? obviously fast! (my stupidity knows no bounds!). And we were off 22,23,24 mph, I was just spining the legs, this is brilliant, I feel great, in fact so great I think I’ll take a turn of the front, and I work my way to the front, effortlessly move to the front and pull the pack along, at least thats what I expected in my mind, the reality was a little different and went something like, ‘Oh my god whats that? Wind’, ‘shit wheres that been hiding?’ ‘Come on Neal don’t make yourself look stupid, come on legs!’, legs -‘sorry that us finished’ and after 15 secs I start to slip gracefully down the middle of the chain, and as I passed Steve I manage to gasp ‘Whatever you do don’t go on the front’, surely Steve would listen to my hard earned advice, and 5 mins later as Steve slide gracefully down the middle of the chain I thought to myself ‘nope!’.
Next up my first ‘long’ distance run (10K) after a couple of 1 mile training sessions, and as expected my performance was less than inspiring.
So if I was really going to achieve this I needed help, thats were Steve Clark of Off That Couch Fitness comes in, and following a swim assessment Steve started to build a training programme specifically for me (I have a medical condition called Crohns and a damaged AC ligament).
So the training started and through the winter I spent many an hour in the pain cave (also know as back bedroom), watching movies and box sets (if anyone needs to know anything about American history I’m your man).
It was at this point I decided to set some targets; swim 1hr 15, ride 8 hrs (adjusted to 7hrs 30 following route change), run 5 hours, weight 175lbs (I was 189lbs).
I followed the training set by Steve, followed the advice about diet and committed fully.
6 weeks out from the Ironman I held the Neal Markham Half Ironman Invitational Classic, completing the distances in order to experience some of the feelings, it was great to get through it and gave me huge confidence for the big day plus I came in first place (out of 1😀).
So as the big day approached I started to taper and it was here that I really noticed the improvements in all 3 disciplines, I was feeling confident that I could achieve the times I’d set, and then disaster, my Crohns started to flare and I wasn’t very well at all, I was doing all I could to get myself sorted but it wasnt looking good, howeverthere was never any intention of not doing it.
I registered on the Friday and went back to the accomodation and spent a relaxed evening with friends. Then up early to go rack my bike, arriving at the same time as Steve we start to walk over and we see Ben Barton Bycroft with his new steed, and in true Ben style rides up and down the road once ‘to get used to it’ and that was it🙄
We racked the bikes and blue bags and walked the route from the water trying to remember the bag and bike position. Next we were off to Transition 2 and again we walked the route from the dismount to leaving transition.
Great now to Frankys and Bennys, sat near the experienced guys Les Thompson and Dan to see if I could pick up on any pearls of wisdom, main subject was tyres bursting in transition due to heat (thankfully I’d let some air out before I left, still had a bit of doubt though😨).
And then back to the hotel for an early night, I couldnt sleep, not through worry or excitement but heat, it was boiling, I was so pleased when the alarm went off!
Race day- weight 172lbs
Breakfast was porridge with water rather than the usual milk and it was disgusting! No worries it was a minor thing, more importantly my Crohns had decided it also wanted to be involved in the day, and I couldn’t get off the toilet, this was bad, very bad!
We arrived at the Flash, checked the bikes tyres were good, releif (went to the toilet), meet up with everyone (went to the toilet) and then into the wet suits. There were a lot of worried faces, but for me I felt ready and was looking forward to starting.
Swim 1hr 13mins 12secs
I’d spoken to the coach about seeding and he said go 5 mins faster than your fastest swim so 1hr 2mins! I started walking up looking at the athletes got to 1hr 5mins and thought everyone looked really good so didnt go further. I looked left and there was Steve Cook, he gave me a big hung and we chatted about nothing in particular. Then Thunderstruck started and I found myself becoming emotional, my eyes filled (which wasnt good as I had clear lenses in my goggles), I looked around and I could see it was affecting others. And with that the gun went and we were off, I pushed forward and entered the Flash and immediately I was in clear water, this great I thought, then I looked and realised I was going the wrong way! I adjusted slightly (a lot) and then I was in the washing machine! I started to find my stroke and thought things were going well, shit I hadn’t started my watch! OK done, now I’m off. It quickly became apparent I’d seeded myself wrong, I was passing everyone, but I was having to do a lot of swimming to avoid people which slowed me, I continued passing people all the way to the first turn (or the water wrestling bouy as I like to call it!), everyone converged on one point and somehow I managed to get my left arm in the zip strap of a guy and it wrapped around my watch, we both stopped, he was just a little stressed! 😠I freed my watch and left (quickly), things started improving with a bit more clear water, and then someone’s touching my feet, I moved left, then to the right but he didnt pass, and then I realised he was drafting me. I was over the moon, my first Ironman and I was being drafted, nice one! (I feel pro) I then turned for home and immediately couldn’t see a thing, the sun had risen and the glare stopped any sighting. I just looked for swimmers around me and carried on.
About 200m to go on the first lap my mind had left, what was it Paul said ‘just keep swimming until you touch the ramp’ and as I did so I stood up and was out, I heard some screaming to my right and saw Sarah acting like a crazy woman (it was great😎), round and back in (I was loving it) and off again, more space and reasonably uneventful, until the final turn for home, again I couldn’t see a thing but employed my previous tactic of watching where other swimmers were going. Everything was working fine and then ‘dink’, I’d swam into the safety boat, not the canoe but the big red boat, I looked up at the guy, he didnt say a word, but his look said ‘pillock!’, I kicked off and I was away again (I dont think anyone saw it).
Last couple of hundred meters, I looked to the right and saw Dave Hodkinson, I passed him but couldn’t help thinking he may not make the cut. I left the water checked my watch 1hr 10 plus at least a couple of minutes for not starting it, I was worried for Dave.
Transition 1 – 8mins 47secs
I was straight in, wetsuit off, everything in my bag was in the correct order and it went on as practiced, then out, oh look a toilet without a queue, it would be rude not to!
Bike – 5hrs 57mins 41 secs
I was so looking forward to getting on the bike, not because I dislike swimming (I love the swim), but because I’d bought a new helemet with intergrated visor and it looked great😎
I suspected I was 5th out of the water for the club and I also knew there were some fabulous cyclist just behind and expected to be overtaken in the near future. But there was something wrong with the bike, I was peddling hard but my speed was 13.5mph and my heart rate 150+, this was bad, I checked the brakes – fine, I looked to make sure nothing was jammed – fine, OK two options stop or carry on, a quick calculation I can make it at 13.5mph average so I carry on.
Then after a couple of miles the heart rate drops ~120, the speed picks up 19,20,21 mph everything is fine (it was the first time I’d done the full swim, ran to transition and straight in the bike).
I start to feel great I’m down on the bars pushing a nice gear, high cadence, low heart rate, the miles start to pass. I enter the loop and get my first experience of a feed station (because of my condition I use Tailwind so only need water and bananas), I grab a water and start to fill my hydration system, dam, missed the bananas, dam, missed the rubbish area, now I have a dilemma, as I remember that littering is a DQ, is throwing an empty water bottle littering? I can’t risk it, so I have the crazy situation of riding up the next hill with a bottle in my hand! at the top there is a lady walking with her husband, I hold out the bottle and she instinctively takes it – result! 😎😎
Back on the bars and I’m off again, the replacement Sheephouse is coming up, we didn’t see it in our recce 3 weeks before but I watched a video on Facebook and know its a 90 degree turn and immediate 20% incline. I’m already in my low gear as I turn, nightmare there’s about 4 bikes almost stopped smashing the gears and and a couple uncllipping (if you fail to prepare….😎), I aim for a small gap and I’m past. I know it flattens and then rises again so I keep everything under control.
I know I’m at the top when I see the wrestlers, and then down the very techinical descent (I know this is technical due to all the chatter on Facebook), I stay hard on the brakes, I’m not prepared to bin it for a few seconds (but some people are!😲).
And then I’m back on rolling roads and before long I’m on the flat. Then at about 30 miles I hear ‘now then’ I look to the right and see Chris Chalk with a big smile on his face, he floats past me and with a couple of slow deliberate pedal strokes he’s gone, inside I’m over the moon, its taken longer than I expected to be caught, I know I’m riding well, everythings going great.
And then at the most remote part of the course I need the toilet, I’m looking for a suitable bush / field when I spot a portaloo, no it can’t be, it must be a mirage and as I get close it will disappear (like an oasis in the desert), no its real, I’m saved!!!
I’m already planning the order of getting my gear off, I’m in and out in a flash. Back on the bike and Im off (has anyone else gone past?).
A couple of miles later comes Hunters, I can hear it long before I see it, I know its coming, I’m changing my gears slowing my heart rate and then I turn onto the hill, people, cow bells, music its like the Tour, I love it!!
I’m grinding my way up and Jacko appears on my right we exchange a few words (or in my case gasps) and hes off.
Back onto the flat, back on the bars back up to speed 22, 23, I’m loving it, its the best I’ve ever felt on the bike, there was no bike envy today because today I was loving my Cube, this is great.
I find my mind drifting and I’m often thinking of Dave hoping he made the cut.
I turn the corner in a small village I see Steve Cook again, he gives me the big thumbs up.
I turn another corner and I’m back in the Tour! people everywhere, excellent.
I changed my feed station strategy after the first, now I stop at everyone, fill my hydration system, get a banana (peel it and responsibly discard the skin) and I’m off (not the quickest but its working for me).
The replacement Sheephouse again, get into gear (it appears everyone has learnt), about halfway Sam appears ‘oh its you Neal, I’ve seen the GRY TRI top for ages and couldnt figure who it was, you must have had a great swim’ ‘I didnt think so’, I tell him not to wait and bid him farewell and hes off (inside I’m bouyed because now I know I’m riding way above what I expected to).
I make my way round to Hunters a second time, I’m telling myself once I’m over this the ride is in the bag. I struggle to get up my legs are shot and if I’m honest I think if there hadn’t been all this people I’d have got off!!!
Then its over, i’m on the flat back up to speed and there is the T2 sign, I still feel good, now 5 miles to go, I start talking to the bike ‘please keep going no mechanicals now’, in my head I’m doing rough calcs and know I’m going to be in just before 6 hrs, I had planned 7 and a half!😲
And before I know it I’m riding in along side the marathon, I see Dan and Les.
Transition 2 -12mins 09 secs
I dismount, rack the bike (toilet – obviously), and take my time, kit off, fresh pair of socks, suncream, grab some food and coke from my bag.
Run – 5hrs 34 mins 35 secs
I walk out eating (i had read to do this somewhere), got a bit of banter from the crowd, ‘thats it Neal you have a picnic no need to rush’, I finished eating and started my run, everything is feeling fine, I don’t feel overly tired, I’m stopping at every feed station for water (ive brought my own salt tablets – Lee told me about them) and I’m carrying gels that I’m used to.
First lap I run completely I pick up the first band, back through the town centre and into the park and that hill!😲.
It was at that point I realised I still had 20miles to do and that I needed to be realistic (it was blisteringly hot), I decide to walk / run, walk up hills and run down and that was the tactic.
I’d seen Damo and Paul come in on the bikes and as I was walking up the hill I saw Dave come in on the bike, I can’t explained how pleased I was to see him (it gave me such a lift). And then ‘Band Envy’ starts, I find I’m looking at everyones wrist, and when I have more bands, inside I’m laughing, but when i have less I’m erm less than happy!
I think it was the second lap when I saw the travelling GRY TRI support crew and it was so great to see them😁😁, the encouragment they were giving was just fantastic ‘you’re looking great, you look strong’ I know theymust be lying because I feel knackered, but it gives me a huge lift 😎😎😎😎
Also all the families of the GRY TRI guys were going crazy everytime they saw the shirt and the banter we was getting from the crowd it was excellent.
But the heat was relentless and had it not been for the guy with the hose pipe I’m sure I’d have stopped #hero
Somehow I’m on lap 3 and then I see Ben come in, I remember thinking thats it we’re all in, and again I was bouyed, until the blisters started on both feet I was gutted, same socks and trainers that I’d used throughout my training, I knew they were bad but kept going.
I recalled something I’d read the night before ‘run if you can, walk if you must, crawl if you have to, but just keep moving forward’, and that was my mantra for those last two laps. That kept me going, that and seeing everyone else, i kept seeing Steve and he looked so cool and relaxed and I was telling myself ‘come on Neal man up, everyone else is managing this’. Later Steve explained that everytime he saw me I looked stong and it spurred him on, that might have been the case but he was spuring me on too.
Third lap down, I hear my name its Steve Cook in the centre, I go over he gives me a big hug and im off again.
Last lap, no more band envy I’m the one being viewed with envious eyes, I want to finish strong so start to run (the feet are killing) I repeat the mantra, slowly but surely its getting there, I see a couple of our guys ‘last lap?’ ‘yeah’ ‘great news, well done’ and with that I’m through the park I have the last band all I have to do is finish.
I look around theres 5 of us who are finishing, I want to be on the red carpet alone, I start to speed up, I’m almost sprinting ( but only in my mind, really I’m hobbling fast – there is video evidence) 1 gone, 2 gone, 3 gone, shit I can’t get past the lady and theres not enough space to drop back, bugger and then she walks, I’m so happy I go past her, I think I can hear people shouting my name but I don’t look anywhere I’m just thinking about the finish, and then I’m there on the red carpet arms in the air ‘Neal you are an IRONMAN’. 13hrs 06mins 22 secs
If you are still reading I’d like to say a couple of thanks, firstly to the club in general everyone has been fantastic and the travelling supporters to commit to that travel awesome, second to the more experienced and stronger members, who on rides, swims or runs give a simple well done (it means a lot to us newer developing members), thirdly Steve Clark for the programme and making adjustments when my condition demanded it, fourthly Paul the Charirman for the advice and for answering my stupid questions but never making me feel stupid, and to Sarah who has given me so much support during this.
I entered Legerman half because it fitted perfectly in the lead up to IMUK, it’s also a local event for me, just 5 miles from my house means I know the course really well as the bike course is my training ground.
The few weeks leading up to the race wasn’t ideal for me, for whatever reason I have developed pains in my shin so Steve and I decided to completely back off running to prevent any further injury but maintain fitness through bike and swim. Not being able to run instantly sends you into sheer panic that every single piece of run training you ever had will simply just disappear, however after having numerous words with myself I decided to do as I was told and trust in my training, after all coach knows best!. The Thursday before the race, I did a bike reccie of IMUK and was made (much to my protest) to do hill reps up Sheep House Hill so I was going into this race with some fatigue in my legs but generally I felt pretty rested.
It was a 4.55am start on race morning, the sun was shining. It was going to be a great day for a race. All the normal nerves of race morning had kicked in, it was only at this point did I realise how much this race meant to me, I wanted to do well and make all the 5am training sessions and sacrifice mean something but more importantly I wanted to know I was heading into Bolton in good condition. Being a local race meant I knew quite a few athletes there, it was comforting knowing my team mates Team Scotty were there, as was my dear friend ‘Bloody Hell Fire’ Mark (whom I blame for the said sheep house hill reps! Hopefully I am forgiven for getting cross at him) and of course Dan Ellis who was our bag support and number 1 fan on the day!
With swim briefing done, we were in the water and at the start line. The swim was manic, punchy and I never seemed to get a space to myself, swimming over people, being swam on, a major kick to the head resulted in me having to stop briefly to put my goggles back on and get back to it. It definitely wasn’t for the faint hearted. Before I knew it I was out Australian Exit style and back on my 2nd lap. I was pretty chuffed to see a fast time on my watch as I ran into transition. 32.20 for 1900m. When I started working with Steve my swim was pretty poor, 10 months ago1900m would have easily taken me 40 plus mins so it’s fair to say, my swim has been a massive improvement area for me and I am so grateful in Steve believing there was a swimmer in me.
Into T1, now anybody who knows me, knows I have a history of taking my time in transition, I think my personal record time is 8 minutes. I was determined not to give away free time, so I planned my kit layout with OCD precision and committed myself to the fact transition is still a race and not a chance to sit on the floor and have a quick recovery. T1 time 1.07 nailed it!
Onto the bike, my favourite bit of any race. I know these roads extremely well so my biggest challenge was not to go off too hard, I had to continually reign myself in and remind myself I needed to run when I get off the bike. The conditions on the bike were near perfect, no wind at all which is really unusual for this area. My focus on the bike was to practice my nutrition, I am a lazy eater and drinker on the bike and this cost me dearly at IM Marbella 70.3 at the beginning of the year. I had exactly the right amount of nutrition to fuel every 30 mins. However after dropping both my energy bars within 10 minutes of getting on my bike, I had to rethink my nutrition very quickly and revert to taking gels. This played on my mind a lot, we all know what can potentially happen when too many gels are consumed! Thankfully I never experienced this! The 2nd mishap was my bottle exploding on me as I took it out of the holder. Sticky sports drink / flies…. nice!
It was lovely seeing my children waiting for me outside my house their cheers of ‘go mummy’ definitely pushed me on.
The bike passed really quickly and I was happy with my time of 2.38.55 avg speed 19.8mph this was delivered in a low HR zone, it felt comfortable, I had stuck to my plan, fed and drank well, now time to see if I was able to run.
Phew off my bike, I’ve not fallen in front of everyone, my legs feel good. ‘ Nailed T2 with a quick in and out and then onto the run.
It was pretty hot out on the run; the course was 4 laps which involved running up, over and down a motorway bridge. The first time this wasn’t great but ok, by the 4th time it felt like a mountain. The run was made easier by seeing loads of friendly races, high 5’s as we went past each other and words of encouragement. On my 2nd lap is where my problems started. I had stopped a bit longer than I should have done at the feed station, and it was then the pain in my left shin started. I tried to forget about it, but I could feel a burning sensation going up to my knee. I didn’t know whether to stop and pull out with Bolton only being a couple of weeks away or whether to just push on. The encouragement I got from the supporters as I ran through the 2 lap, spurred me on, and Dan (amazing supporter thank you!) told me I was 2nd lady with a good gap between me and 3rd place. I gritted my teeth dug deep and kept moving my legs. Tap, tap, tap, tap running through my head. The 3rd lap consisted mostly of a walk/run strategy which was just making it worse, and I could tell my time lead was reducing dramatically. I’d worked too hard to just give my 2nd place away easily, so I focussed on everything other than my shin, mostly what food I was going to inhale after the race, and got stuck into last 5k. My watch died so I have no idea what I ran that final lap in but it felt fast. As I crossed the line someone shouted you’re 2nd lady. Boom! I had set out what I wanted too; I’d had a great race.
I had no idea what time I had completed it in, as my watch had died, I couldn’t believe my eyes when Craig passed me my slip and I saw 4.58.55 sub 5 hours wow. The course is a little short on the bike but never the less I will take it!
After being disappointed with my race at Marbella, I was keen to see whether I had it in me to pull a good performance, and this race proved just that. A great confidence builder going into Bolton.
When I first started working with Steve I was broken, literally. I had a fracture in my femur and my confidence was at rock bottom, would I ever get back to where I was pre break?. I hadn’t done any real training for 10 months so I felt unfit and generally wasn’t in a good place about myself. It’s fair to say thanks to Steve and his patience with me I have exceeded where I was before my injury, we have rebuilt the machine as we like to say. I am going into Bolton nervous and excited, this will be my 2nd full Ironman and I have goals I want to achieve, I want a great race experience. This race has given me a confidence I am on track to do just that. Thanks Steve.